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The United States of Leland Ryan GoslingThe United States of Leland
(Due to Gosling's abilities with a great script)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Don Cheadle, Jena Malone, Chris Klein, Kevin Spacey and Lena Olin
Directed/written by: Matthew Ryan Hoge
Limited release

Bluntly Speaking? Are you ready for a drama that doesn't try to dumb itself down and cookie-cut its characters into a nice little ideal of the world's youth? In other words, here, in The United States of Leland, writer director Matthew Ryan Hoge has developed a world for film that is truly of our world - dumbfounding cruelty, oblivious caring, disconnected values and all. He shows a slice of life that dwells beneath the happy model SUV driving Stepford clones we are continually force fed as "society" by entertainment, and delivers folks and their stories that could be, may be, happening right next door.

Story goes…a young man, Leland Fitzgerald (Ryan Gosling) has just killed a mentally challenged kid. It's a horrific offense yet he shows no remorse nor solace in the form of an explainable excuse to the families he's devastated - his victim's or his own. Sound a little too familiar…

As we follow an emotionally detached Leland through his narration of events, he shares with us his inner pain that he hides from the rest of the world.

What's the kid's problem? He has a good family. His father Albert (Kevin Spacey) is a famous literary figure that lets him travel the world…his mother (Lena Olin) is busy, but cares - a little, and he's got a cute, if-a-bit self-destructive, gal pal (Gena Malone). Heck, he'll have the cherry red sports car for graduation and be in the ivy adorned dorm room by fall…at first glance.

As he nonchalantly, and with an oddly kind heart, explains the timeline that lead to his present state, we wince at the familiarity of the story which could be ripped from a current shocking headline de Jour from Anycity, USA.

He's plain old guilty and the world wants to know why he did it.

While incarcerated and awaiting his fate, Leland meets a would-be novelist disguised as a mentor. His correctional institution teacher, Pearl Madison (Don Cheadle) is fascinated by Leland; by what makes Leland tick. Pearl also happens to be a "fan" of Leland's father's writings. He goes so far as to try to interview the equally emotionless father for his book…big mistake.

But, ultimately as Pearl gathers notes and bends facility rules for his own agenda, he comes to an unexpected internal struggle with his own his morality. What starts out manipulating the trust of Leland, in hopes of the ultimate "why he did it" non-fictional bestseller, turns into a subtle reverse manipulation - and Leland wasn't even trying.

This is a helluva film folks. The cast is delightful - great scripts tend to attract great talents after all. Of particular note is this rising behemoth who digs physical and emotional morphing ala distinct character soirees, Ryan Gosling. The lad is steadfast in creating a name for himself not as a gorgeous manlyberry heartthrob (which he most certainly is), but as an actor who disappears into his role and serves up layered performances that keep one going to these "small" films.

But wait! There's more fellow thespian snorting aficionados...you get Don Cheadle, Jena Malone and Chris Klein, all doing what they do when they do it - superbly. Oh, Kevin Spacey? Well, this lug bolt of pure manly talent isn't the star - it's Gosling's show - but as always the man slips into his role (without ego) and lets the ensemble work as a unit - "Joe Actor" - and lets others get the kudos while still anchoring scenes.

TUSoL offers no concrete answers to why a seemingly straight laced kid murders a lamb of sorts, and it's precisely that - the lack of blatant answers - that leaves you a bit disturbed and in conversation when the house lights come up.

There are a few film faux pas; a couple of grandious melodramatic snippets here and there, and a pinch of editorial snafus there. But, for this being Hoge's first feature, his caliber of material, and the impeccable talent within, the nit-picking is a mute point. I challenge you not to be completely moved at the film's chilling conclusion.

Snack recommendation: A Tums© Martini and an Otho-Novum Shooter



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