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By Eric Campos | April 5, 2004

The murder of a 16-year-old retarded boy sets off a chain of events that finds a series of characters learning to accept responsibility for their actions.

Quiet, wide-eyed teenager Leland decides one day to murder the retarded brother of the girl who just dumped him. Imprisoned for his senseless action, Leland bonds with prison teacher Pearl Madison, who wants to use the boy’s story to kickstart his stalled writing career. Leland shares his interesting outlook on the world with Pearl, telling him stories of his neglectful father and of the troubled girl he fell in love with and her brother, who he helped walk home from school when his sister was to busy off doing drugs. But the big question is why Leland did what he did and is he able to accept and take responsibility for the shocking murder. It takes a while for Leland to come to a conclusion and when he finally does, it may not be the conclusion you’d expect.

Director Matthew Ryan Hoge has created a tight little drama here, made up of several of intersecting stories and characters surrounding the prison that Leland and Pearl hold their meetings in. He’s also assembled an incredible cast with Ryan Gosling (“The Slaughter Rule”) as Leland and Don Cheadle (“Boogie Nights”) as Pearl. Also, there’s Kevin Spacey turning in an old-school Spacey performance as the popular author Albert Fitzgerald who is also the cold and uncaring father of Leland, Jena Malone as the cracked out slain brother’s sister, and Chris Klein as her sister’s live-in boyfriend. And you know what? Klein’s actually pretty goddamn good; who woulda thunk it.

“The United States of Leland” is thoroughly entertaining and will possibly get you thinking about certain choices you’ve made in your life.

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