The United States of Leland

Director: Matthew Ryan Hoge

Institute History

  • 2003 Sundance Film Festival


The effect of a senseless killing on the lives of two families is the impetus for this poignant yet powerful exploration of human frailty, ambition, and empathy. Fashioning a multilayered drama that superbly interweaves 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 simultaneously.

Beginning with the killing of a boy by 16-year-old Leland Fitzgerald (Ryan Gosling), whose subsequent arrest and imprisonment precipitates a relationship with prison teacher Pearl Madison (Don Cheadle), The United States of Leland (also the name for Leland's journal) asks why such a horrible tragedy could take place. And as we quickly learn, Leland is, among many things, the son of 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 pére, 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

Screening Details

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