The United States of Leland
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Matthew Ryan Hoge
with Ryan Gosling, Don Cheadle, Chris Klein, Jena Malone, Kevin Spacey, Martin Donovan, Ann Magnuson, Lena Olin, Michelle Williams, Kerry Washington, Sherilyn Fenn, Michael Peña
release US 18.Jan.03 Sundance,
UK 1.Jul.05
03/US Paramount 1h48

Looking for a 'why': Cheadle and Gosling

klein malone spacey

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The United States of Leland Especially subtle performances and a willingness to let emotions emerge organically set this starry indie drama apart from the crowd. In many ways the film is pure subtext, looking at the things that go on around us that we refuse to acknowledge. Powerful and provocative--if perhaps a bit subdued.

When teenager Leland P Fitzgerald (Gosling) is arrested for murder, everyone wants to know why. His prison teacher (Cheadle) takes an unusual, possibly unethical interest in his case. The victim's parents (Donovan and Magnuson), sisters (Malone and Williams) and a close family friend (Klein) react in different ways--sometimes with potentially earthshaking results. His estranged parents (Spacey and Olin) are so withdrawn that we can see why Leland is unable to express his inner feelings at all. Although he tries.

First-time writer-director Hoge takes such a beautifully low key approach to his material that we're drawn in completely, like leaning in to hear someone with a particularly soft voice tell a powerfully riveting story. It's beautifully shot and edited with a lyrical, flowing rhythm that mixes past and present. And the performances are equally thoughtful, with sparks of cynicism and jagged emotions that remind us of the volcanic undercurrent. Gosling is a mesmerising centre point--smart and soft-spoken, aware of what he's done even if he has no idea why. And the cast around him is strikingly good. Standouts Cheadle and Spacey find real electricity in their scenes together.

The film has a way of touching us on an almost subliminal level as it examines things that get stuck in our memory and things we forget, the fact that tears don't actually accomplish what we want, that we often choose denial over realism, and that we use our humanity as an excuse for failure but not an explanation for virtue. This is strong stuff that Hoge brings to life with dry wit and an almost disorienting collage of randomly ordered scenes and film-school indulgences. And while it's almost pathologically understated, he does hint rather obviously that something potent is coming. Intensely moving filmmaking that's worth a look.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs 22.Jun.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The United States of Leland Mike Zempter, Athens, Ohio: 5/5 "This might be the most complex film I've ever seen. Amazing how many dismissive reviews it's gotten. At the core: blame Leland's father for being remote? Leland was also remote, choosing not to visit his father even as a little boy. His pathologically distant personality opens to his prison teacher. The initial murder, which in other stories would never be regretted, is referred to immediately by Leland as 'a mistake.' That initial opinion is not mentioned again, another fine, mysterious point in a film that is full of them. It's like Catcher in the Rye. or A Good man is hard to find, if you look for parallels. conventional verities are violated throughout, but they are not rejected on the hidden level which is where the story takes place. It is the story of a miasma, which is what life is." (13.Feb.06)
© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall