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The United States of Leland

Movie Poster
Directed by Matthew Ryan Hoge
Produced by Kevin Spacey
Written by Matthew Ryan Hoge
Starring Don Cheadle
Ryan Gosling
Chris Klein
Jena Malone
Lena Olin
Kevin Spacey
Michelle Williams
Distributed by Paramount Classics
Release date(s) January 18, 2003 (premiere)
Running time 108 min.
Country United States
Language English

The United States of Leland is a 2003 American drama film by director Matthew Ryan Hoge and producer Kevin Spacey about a meek teenaged boy named Leland P. Fitzgerald (Ryan Gosling) who has inexplicably committed a shocking murder. In the wake of the killing, his teacher in prison tries to understand the senseless crime, while the families of the victim and the perpetrator struggle to cope with the aftermath.



The film begins with a flashback narrated by Leland P. Fitzgerald (Gosling), describing how he couldn't remember the details of the day that he killed a mentally retarded boy named Ryan Pollard (Welch). Leland is arrested while the rest of the town reacts with shock to the senseless murder. Ryan's parents (Donovan and Magnuson), sisters Becky (Malone) and Julie (Williams), as well as Julie's live-in boyfriend Allen (Klein) grieve the loss of their loved one. Leland's divorced mother (Olin) is desperate to see her son, while his father, famous writer Albert Fitzgerald (Spacey), discovers his son's fate in a newspaper and returns home to be there for the trial.

While in juvenile hall, Leland is schooled by teacher Pearl Madison (Cheadle), an aspiring writer who is searching for a breakthrough story. Like many others at the prison, Pearl senses there is something different about the emotionally detached Leland, and helps him circumvent the prison rules so he can keep a journal. While his girlfriend is out of town in Los Angeles, Pearl sleeps with a coworker and tells her that he is going to write a book about Leland.

Through his discussions with Pearl, Leland reveals his childhood memories such as dealing with sadness at his grandmother's funeral and traveling long distances to visit his father. One time, he decided to stay in New York rather than continue on to see his father. After he couldn't find a hotel to sleep in, a kindhearted family decided to take him in for his stay. He continued to visit the family over the years, and was especially captivated by the mother Mrs. Calderon (Sherilyn Fenn). The two also discuss Leland's history with Becky, Ryan's sister. He met her innocently at a record store and began regularly walking home with her and Ryan after school. They grew to love each other, and Leland recalled a time when Becky asked him to promise her "everything's gonna be okay", despite his objections that he had no control over bad things that could happen. As she explained, sometimes it's just nice to hear things one hopes to be true.

Pearl covertly arranges a meeting with Leland's father at his hotel. After he asks for more information on his family's past, Albert realizes Pearl is researching for his book and refuses to let his son be exploited - something he is guilty of himself. He eventually tells the prison supervisor about Pearl's prohibited meetings with Leland, leading him to be reassigned to another section of the prison.

Leland discovered through Allen that Becky had been in a love affair with a dealer named Kevin who was due to be released from prison soon. Becky, ater he gets out of prison starts to see Kevin again and decides to end it with Leland. In a rare display of emotion, he argues with her, but ultimately realizes the futility of anything he can do or say to change her mind, saying that neither the tears nor the amount of his love - he says he still dreams about her every moment - can change the feelings of a person who does not love in return anymore. He says tears will just make her sad, too. Pearl says, he should be angry with her since she betrayed him. But Leland says he is not, he says he is sad but not angry.

Pearl begins to realize the implications of his sexual indiscretion through his discussions with Leland, and admits that he is a bastard. Eventually, his girlfriend discovers his tryst and they have a fight over the phone. Meanwhile, Julie decides to break up with Allen and doesn't want him to attend her first choice college. Brokenhearted, he holds up an auto repair shop and allows himself to get arrested in front of Julie. He is sent to the same juvenile hall as Leland, where he steals a knife (from Pearl) and kills Leland in the prison yard as a revenge for what he did to the Pollard family.

Pearl flies to LA to reconcile with his girlfriend and reads Leland's final entries in his journal. On one of his return trips to New York, Leland discovered Mrs. Calderon divorced her husband and the spark for life she had before was gone. He began noticing a sadness in everyone around him, causing him to be dejected. He even felt Ryan was miserable with his own situation. As the two walked home from school, Ryan became frustrated with an obstacle on the bike path. Leland helped him off his bike, gave him a hug, and whispered in his ear that everything was going to be alright.



  • Scored by Jeremy Enigk, Seattle-based musician and band leader
  • Never commercially released

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The United States of Leland is a 2003 film about a meek teenaged boy named Leland P. Fitzgerald who has inexplicably committed a shocking murder. In the wake of the killing, his teacher in prison tries to understand the senseless crime, while the families of the victim and the perpetrator struggle to cope with the aftermath.

Written and directed by Matthew Ryan Hoge.
Crime. Confusion. Compassion. They're all just states of mind.


Leland P. Fitzgerald

  • This one is something a friend of mine said to me. "You have to believe that life is more than the sum of its parts, kiddo." I remember it right now to the "kiddo" part. But when I think about what she said, the same thing always comes into my head. What if you can't put the pieces together in the first place?
  • You want a why. Well, maybe there isn't one. Maybe...maybe this is just something that happened.
  • The worst part is knowing that there is goodness is people. Mostly it stays deep down and buried. Maybe we don't have God because we're scared of the bad stuff. Maybe we're really scared of the good stuff. Because if there's no God, well, that means it's inside of us and we could be good all the time if we wanted. So when we do bad things, it'd be because we want to or because we have to. Or maybe we just need the bad stuff to remind us what the good stuff is in the first place.
  • I think there are two ways you can see the world. You either see the sadness that's behind everything or you choose to keep it all out.
  • And that's when I figured out that tears couldn't make somebody who was dead, alive again. There's another thing to learn about tears: they can't make somebody who doesn't love you any more love you again. It's the same with prayers. I wonder how much of their lives people waste crying and praying to God. If you ask me, the devil makes more sense than God does. I can at least see why people would want him around. It's good to have somebody to blame for the bad stuff they do. Maybe God's there because people get scared of all the bad stuff they do. They figure that God and the Devil are always playing this game of tug-of-war with them. And they never know which side they're gonna wind up on. I guess that tug-of-war idea explains how sometimes, even when people try to do something good, it still turns out bad.
  • It covers my eyes. It's all I can see. Say there's some kids playing baseball. All I see is the one kid they won't let play because he tells corny jokes and no one thinks they're funny. Or I see a boy and a girl in love and kissing, you know. I just see that they're gonna be one of those sad old couples one day who just cheats on each other and can't even look each other in the eye. And I feel it. I feel all of their sadness. I feel it probably worse than that sad old couple or that corny kid will ever feel it.


  • Albert T. Fitzgerald: I recall when our lives were unusual and electric. When we burned with something close to fire. But now we sway to a different rhythm. Lives lived without meaning or even directed hope. The passage of time measured only by loss. Loss of a job, loss of a minivan...a son.
  • Mrs. Calderon: You have to believe that life is more than the sum of its parts, kiddo.


Lady on Airplane: Aren't you an actor?
Albert Fitzgerald: Aren't we all, dear.

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