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Paramount Studios presents
The United States of Leland (2003)

"I think I made a mistake."
- Leland (Ryan Gosling)

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: September 09, 2004

Stars: Don Cheadle, Ryan Gosling, Chris Klein, Jena Malone, Lena Olin, Kevin Spacey
Other Stars: Michelle Williams, Martin Donovan, Ann Magnuson, Kerry Washington, Sherilyn Fenn
Director: Matthew Ryan Hoge

MPAA Rating: R for language and some drug content.
Run Time: 01h:44m:17s
Release Date: September 07, 2004
UPC: 097363427148
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C-AB- D+

DVD Review

What makes Leland kill?

Is it because (as Leland says) in the tug of war between God and the Devil, things turn out bad, even if he tries? Is it because he was abandoned by his famous author and self-described "a**hole" of a father? Or maybe it's because (again, as he says) he can see the inevitable decline and sadness in everyone. Whatever the answer is, by the end of this clumsy, confused movie, you're unlikely to care.

In the first of the film's serious missteps, 23-year-old Ryan Gosling is cast as the 15-year-old Leland Fitzgerald. Gosling looks far too old for the part, and never quite settles down in a role that would require an extremely skilled actor, one equally adept at portraying the naïveté and fragility of a troubled adolescent, as well as his unjustified conviction that he knows the truth. Leland has just stabbed and killed his girlfriend's retarded younger brother, but he claims no memory of the act, that is was just "something that happened." He's shipped off to juvie, where frustrated writer Pearl Madison (Don Cheadle) senses a story, and encourages Leland to write his heart out. Meanwhile, in flashback, we learn more about Leland's breakup with his heroin-addicted girlfriend Becky (Jena Malone) and his clandestine trips to New York City, where he takes up with a rich family instead of visiting his expatriate father in Paris.

But wait, there's more—in a number of unnecessary (or, at best, poorly motivated) subplots, we're treated to Becky's relationship with her pusher friend Kevin (Nick Kokich), details of why Allen (Chris Klein) has moved in with Becky's family, Pearl's infidelity to his distant girlfriend, and finally, Allen's sudden and bizarre transformation into redeemer and murderer.

Not surprisingly, the muddled plot carries over into the movie's message, which is equally confused. There's something going on here about the fallibility of human nature, most explicitly stated when Pearl attempts to defend cheating on his girlfriend as "only human" to counter Leland's self-righteous criticism (this from someone who's just murdered a younger, essentially defenseless boy). The characters repeat the words "I just made a mistake" so often that it practically becomes the film's mantra. The movie's apparently trying to make a statement about humanism, but are we really to get the message that "I just a mistake" is a valid justification for stealing, drug abuse, and even murder?

If there's one flaw that kills the movie, it's the dialogue. Rarely does it sound natural, more often stilted and portentous, not to mention pretentious, especially in the mouth of the world-wise and world-weary Leland. His endless observations on everything from his possible alternative ways of looking at the world to the nature of sadness are trite, and veer towards the laughable.

The United States of Leland does have some good to partially counter the bad. The cinematography is good, and Don Cheadle does his usual solid work (one wishes for more of Lena Olin and Kevin Spacey). There's also the fractured narrative, which initially forces us to work out the characters and their relationships, and then jumps around in time, adding interest to the mystery of Leland's motivations. But that's not enough, and ultimately the film sinks under the weight of its jumbled plot and leaden dialogue.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image looks great, with lots of detail, solid black levels, and accurate colors and flesh tones. There are no compression artifacts, and no edge enhancement

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: In contrast with the image, the sound is rather disappointing. It sounds flat and slightly muffled, to the point that dialogue is sometimes difficult to make out. There is some stereo separation, but little or no activity in the surrounds, and surprisingly, the Dolby 5.1 mix is no more spacious or enveloping than the two-channel Dolby Surround mix—in fact, it sounds identical.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Love Me If You Dare, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, Northfork, And Now Ladies & Gentlemen, The Reckoning
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The nonanamorphic original trailer looks slightly hazy, but otherwise good. The five other trailers are presented in a number of aspect ratios, and also look good, but there's no menu and they must be viewed sequentially. The keepcase has two flaps that must be undone before it can be opened, which is rather annoying.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

The United States of Leland starts with the interesting premise of trying to figure out why a teenage boy murdered his girlfriend's brother, but goes nowhere fast and sinks under the weight of its plot machinations and leaden dialogue. The transfer looks great, but extras are minimal.


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