United States of Leland, The

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 01/19/03 13:19:48

"Starts off as a snowball and builds to an avalanche... Slowly."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2003 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Leland P. Fitzgerald is a bit of a freak. He’s quiet, slow-moving, very much in his own head, and he just stabbed a retarded kid twenty times. But this isn’t simply a case of an SFK (sick fucking kid), there’s got to be more to this crime than meets the eye… but what justification could this otherwise non-violent kid have for sticking a knife in another kid?

Ryan Gosling, whether you know him or not, is someone you need to be a fan of. The kid blew pieces out of the audience with his Sundance debut in 2000, The Believer, where he played a Jewish nazi-sympathizing skinhead. Many young actors who make an initial splash that big fail to follow-up in like fashion, but Gosling is fantastic in this film from start to finish. Like Jake Gyllenhaal did last year with Donnie Darko, Gosling dishes out an understated, quietly unsettling performance, which is all the more surprising seeing as the role is really not written with an audience in mind.

While The United States of Leland is a long way from a bad movie, the opening act really isn’t for the impatient. This is a film that takes a looooooong time to get to a place where you know there’s a point coming, but there are lots to keep you amused along the way. Take Kevin Spacey for example, who also doubled as producer. As Leland’s long absent author dad, returning home because his kid is in prison for murder, Spacey undoubtedly has the best lines in this film. Like he did in Swimming With Sharks and American Beauty, Spacey lights up the screen with every word that comes out of his mouth. This character is a right bastard, but he’s a smart bastard with a razor-sharp tongue.

Don Cheadle, as Leland’s teacher in prison, is also on his game. Of course, that’s no surprise. Cheadle could be great in a Dorito’s commercial, for crying out loud, and he delivers here in a big way. Also hard to fault are Ann Magnuson, Martin Donovan and Jena Malone, though the latter seems to roll out the same character no matter what film she finds herself in.

The United States of Leland will get plenty of critical praise if the buzz after the screening is anything to go by, and though it might seem unfair to compare it to Donnie Darko and American Beauty, two of the finer movies of the last decade in my opinion, comparisons are certainly valid. No, The United States of Leland is not in the same league as those films, but it would be totally unfair to suggest that because of that this deliberate, intelligent, ultimately exhilarating drama isn't worth your ten bucks. Beyond everything else, the filmmaker manages to achieve the near unthinkable – he found a good performance in Chris Klein. For that alone, four stars is well deserved.

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