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The United States of Leland (2003)

R | | Drama | 25 March 2005 (Italy)
2:22 | Trailer
A young man's experience in a juvenile detention center that touches on the tumultuous changes that befall his family and the community in which he lives.


Matthew Ryan Hoge
1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Don Cheadle ... Pearl Madison
Ryan Gosling ... Leland P. Fitzgerald
Chris Klein ... Allen Harris
Jena Malone ... Becky Pollard
Lena Olin ... Marybeth Fitzgerald
Kevin Spacey ... Albert T. Fitzgerald
Michelle Williams ... Julie Pollard
Martin Donovan ... Harry Pollard
Ann Magnuson ... Karen Pollard
Kerry Washington ... Ayesha
Sherilyn Fenn ... Mrs. Calderon
Matt Malloy ... Charlie
Wesley Jonathan ... Bengel
Michael Peña ... Guillermo
Michael Welch ... Ryan Pollard


As a detached kid spends time in juvenile hall for the unspeakable murder of a special needs kid, a writer and the people around him try to comprehend and cope with his reasoning for commiting this murder from the writings in a classroom book from his juvenile class, where he tries to let people know "the why". Written by gavin Johns

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

boy | book | writer | teacher | author | See All (167) »


Crime. Confusion. Compassion. They're all just states of mind.



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language and some drug content | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

25 March 2005 (Italy) See more »

Also Known As:

20 Messerstiche See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$48,384, 4 April 2004

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (Ontario)

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The is the first time Ryan Gosling and Michael Peña have worked together. They reunited ten years later on the film Gangster Squad (2013). See more »


When Leland is watching the basketball game with the other inmate, the sun is shining through the window, however, the shadows outside are cast in wrong direction. See more »


[first lines]
Leland: When I say I don't remember that day, I'm not lying. Wish I did, but I just don't. Sometimes the most important stuff goes away. Goes away so bad, it's like it was never there to begin with. It's funny the stuff that sticks in your head. I could tell you forward and backward about one day when I was five, and my dad bought me a stupid ice cream cone. I could tell you the flavor of the ice cream. It was pick bubblegum. Even stuff about the girl who scooped it out. Her hair was fire ...
See more »


Featured in Beyond Clueless (2014) See more »


Written by John Nichols, Davie Muth, Charly Hoge
Performed by Wake Up 37
Copyright 2002 Wake Up 37
See more »

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User Reviews

Disunited states of Matthew Ryan Hoge
16 April 2004 | by Chris KnippSee all my reviews

It's interesting to contrast Ryan Gosling's brilliant performance as the terrifyingly smart, aggressive, and articulate Jewish Nazi skinhead Danny Balint in Henry Bean's `The Believer' with his characterization of Leland P. Fitzgerald, the sweet, confused middle class child of detached, alienated American whiteness who's murdered an autistic kid in `The United States of Leland.' And this is probably the only reason to see this new movie. The roles are polar opposites, which must have attracted a young actor as talented and adventurous as Gosling. But the movie is a muddle and so, inevitably, is Gosling's Leland. The best actor in the world couldn't make sense out of Matthew Ryan Hoge's sappy, disorganized writing and unsure direction.

This is a movie that never decides where it's going and never develops a pulse. It's ill conceived in a whole list of ways. Leland is in special custody for committing this terrible, inexplicable crime – which his fellow inmates consider so evil they call him `Devil Boy.' Yet he is portrayed as a young philosopher, a mild-mannered (if potentially lethal) Holden Caulfield. The disconnect is never explained. The movie purports to be exploring Leland's motives for the killing but it never finds any.

The tension is diffused by telling the story out of order with intercut scenes that build up our knowledge of subsidiary characters like Leland's mean, famous writer father (Kevin Spacey), his mother (Lena Olin), his girlfriend Becky (Jena Malone) ), his girlfriend's little brother and sister and parents, a young guy who lives with them (Chris Klein) and. . . and. . . Hoge doesn't know where to stop.

These subplots weaken all the characterizations, not just the central one, and they rob the movie of any point. Hoge is so interested in the career and love problems of Leland's prison teacher and would-be biographer, Pearl (Don Cheadle), in Leland's nasty, remote dad, in the dilemma of Chris Klein's character, and in Leland's girlfriend's drug issues, that the mystery of Leland and his crime never gets plumbed, even if Hoge knew how to do that, which he doesn't seem to.

Is Leland some kind of perverted saint, or just a mild-mannered psychopath? We never find out. All we know is he has come to look on the world as very sad, and that's the best explanation we get for the crime: he wanted to save the little boy from sorrow.

At one point confused, vague flashbacks about trips when Leland was supposed to visit his father in Paris but wound up in New York reveal yet another subplot as he's semi-adopted by a well off Manhattan family.

This all seems either ludicrous or crazy. If it strikes you as sensitive and deep, maybe you'd better check your own pulse.

Autism advocates are up in arms at the suggestion that Leland's killing of an autistic boy might be merciful, but this is not a portrait of the autistic boy -- who's only glimpsed a few times, or of the crime (ditto). What's even more reprehensible than the slighting of the boy is the suggestion that murder might be seen merely as an expression of teenage angst. The thinking behind this movie doesn't bear looking into, and if you want to demonstrate against every badly written film you're going to be awfully busy.

Another interesting contrast is to compare "The United States of Leland" with Jordan Melamed's `Manic,' where Don Cheadle plays a very similar role as a psychiatrist dealing with a disturbed youth named Lyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who's killed a child in a fit of rage. `Manic' depicts in concrete terms where Lyle's rage comes from. We understand the rage is going to be a lifelong problem, but that with luck he may learn to tame it. There's no nonsense about the sorrow of the world and there aren't a lot of confusing subplots. `Manic," in fact, may be almost too simple, but it fairly bristles with powerful, authentic emotion. The story moves forward with intensity and the performances really sing.

Gosling doesn't shake our faith in his skill as an actor, and Cheadle, Klein, Spacey, and the other principals all do respectable, occasionally fine work, but they can't compensate for how badly this movie is conceived, written, and edited.

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