The United States of Leland


Top 20% of all time (see others with this rank)

Festival Year

2003 (click here to see all competition films from this year)


Dramatic Competition


Don Cheadle, Ryan Gosling, Chris Klein, Jena Malone, Lena Olin, Kevin Spacey, Michelle Williams

Non-Cast Credits

Matthew Ryan Hoge, Mark Damon, Kevin Spacey, Bernie Morris, Palmer West, Jonah Smith, James Glennon, Edward T. McAvoy, Jeff Betancourt, Jeremy Enigk


The effect of a senseless killing on the lives of two families is the impetus for his poignant yet powerful exploration of human frailty, ambition, and empathy. Fashioning a multilayered drama that superbly interewaves multiple storylines and characters , first-time director Matthew Ryan Hoge displays the rare ability to construct a film that resonates on emotional and ideational planes simultaneiously.

Beginning with the killing of a boy by 16-year-old Leland Fitzgerald (Ryah Gosling), whose subsequent arrest and imprisonment precipitates a relationship with prison teacher Pearl Madison (Don Cheadle), The United States of Leland (also the name of Leland's Journal) asks why such horrible tragedy could take place. And as we quickly learn, Leland is, among many things, the son of a world-famous writer Albert Fitzgerald (Kevin Spacey), whose imperious attitude and expatriate status could certainly have set the stage for his son's actions. But this film is anything but about simplistic explanations. Struggles between Madison and Leland pere, both of whom stand accused of mining the boy for material, as well as the actions of Leland's girlfriend Becky (Jena Malone_ and her sister's boyfriend Allen (Chris Klein), are only part of a complex and wonderfully produced film rich in moral ambiguity and questions about the human condition.


Geoffrey Gilmore (see other films reviewed by the same reviewer)

Film Takes Pace.