The United States Of Leland Review

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After teenager Leland (Gosling) murders his ex-girlfriend’s mentally disabled brother, he befriends a prison teacher, Pearl (Cheadle), who is keen to write a book about him. Flashbacks fill us in on Leland’s past as Pearl attempts to find out what drove h


As an actress from Donnie Darko (Malone) jacks up to the strains of The Pixies, writer-director Matthew Ryan Hoge’s debut makes its indie intentions clear from the start. This is about misfits who buck the system — but, in the case of the writer’s son who murders a mentally disabled friend, the big question is: why?

While the narration concerns itself with answering this question somewhat unconvincingly, more interesting characters emerge on the sidelines. Allen (Chris Klein) is a bereaved boy clinging to his girlfriend’s family; Albert (producer Kevin Spacey) is Leland’s elusive father. Both are fascinating roles, but teasingly ambiguous — Hoge drip-feeds his audience with tiny biographical titbits that are just enough to mildly intrigue as he leaves us to fill in the blanks.

For most of the movie, Leland himself is a void, claiming the murder was a mere “mistake” and that things “just happen”. So it’s up to us to divine whether his eventual explanation is the fiction of a madman or the product of a disillusioned society, an extreme consequence of modern ennui. Which may be interesting and potentially profound, but it does mean United States never delivers an emotional punch.

It’s poetic, hypnotic and well-performed, but fails to either draw out its characters with conviction or fully draw its audience in.