Tuesday, June 28, 2005

United States of Leland (2003)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

For many Americans faced with the new and disturbing phenomenon of school shootings in 1990s, "why" was the first rational reaction. One of the films that attempts to give an answer to this question is UNITED STATES OF LELAND, 2003 drama written and directed by Matthew Ryan Hoge.

The film begins when Leland P. Fitzgerald (played by Ryan Gosling), a quiet, seemingly sensitive teenager, commits unspeakable crime of knifing autistic boy to death at school playground. He is arrested and brought to juvenile detention centre to await trial. There he meets history teacher Pearl Madison (played by Don Cheadle) who is fascinated with boy and wants to discover what made him do such a horrible thing. Pearl's motives aren't exactly educational – he wants to become a writer, and since Leland happens to be estranged son of famous novelist Albert T. Fitzgerald (played by Kevin Spacey), a book based on conversations with Leland is bound to be bestseller. Leland, despite not remembering his crime, has less problems coming to terms with consequences of his action than Becky Pollard (played by Jena Malone), his former girlfriend and victim's sister, as well as the rest of her family.

Hoge had very good idea - to explore some post-Columbine issue from an existentialist perspective. At first, it looks that UNITED STATES OF LELAND will succeed in doing that. Ryan Gosling is great in a difficult role of character who must win audience's sympathies despite bloodiness of his actions. The character of Pearl – his spiritual councillor with issues of his own – is also fascinating and well-played by Don Cheadle. Unfortunately, Hoge squanders this wonderful idea with poor script. Use of flashbacks is confusing enough, but the audience is really at odds with too many characters and too many unexplored subplots. Kevin Spacey, who produced the film, is wasted in completely unnecessary role. What was supposed to be profound comes as pretentious, especially at the end with the surprise twist which wasn't a surprise at all. UNITED STATES OF LELAND begins with a question "why", but after the end credits that question will be asked by viewers who witnessed a missed opportunity.

RATING: 4/10 (+)


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