The United States of Leland – Review

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Thoughtful teen Leland (Ryan Gosling) is arrested and held in custody – complete with orange jump-suit – accused of murdering his girlfriend’s mentally ill brother.

His teacher in jail, Pearl (Don Cheadle), can see that Leland is no ordinary criminal and smells a book in his story. Against the wishes of the prison governor, he takes Leland aside for private sessions.

As their relationship builds, Pearl learns as much about himself as he does about Leland, until Leland’s author father (Kevin Spacey) finds out and puts a stop to it.


Leland clearly doesn’t fit in. He seems oddly at home within the confines of jail. His blank innocence betrays a lack of clarity in the film’s message.

Killing’s bad. We know that. Can motive make it OK? The film isn’t really quite sure.

Despite his terrible crime, Leland is about the most sympathetic character in the film. His philosophy on life seems to be the most honourable and healthy.

Gosling’s resignation to his character’s fate neatly follows from Spacey’s vindictive cynicism – it certainly helps us understand how these people end up where they do.

In “13 Conversations About One Thing,” released just two weeks ago, that “one thing” was the nature of happiness – once again, we’re on similar territory, with this film musing more on the nature of sadness.

Like its predecessor, there’s very little light in this drama. But despite its grim subject matter – taking in sadness, infidelity, exploitation and murder – strangely, its conclusion seems to be slightly more upbeat, in an ironic kind of way.