108 user 65 critic

The United States of Leland (2003)

R | | Drama | 25 March 2005 (Italy)
2:22 | Trailer
A young man's experience in a juvenile detention center that touches on the tumultuous changes that befall his family and the community in which he lives.


Matthew Ryan Hoge
1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Don Cheadle ... Pearl Madison
Ryan Gosling ... Leland P. Fitzgerald
Chris Klein ... Allen Harris
Jena Malone ... Becky Pollard
Lena Olin ... Marybeth Fitzgerald
Kevin Spacey ... Albert T. Fitzgerald
Michelle Williams ... Julie Pollard
Martin Donovan ... Harry Pollard
Ann Magnuson ... Karen Pollard
Kerry Washington ... Ayesha
Sherilyn Fenn ... Mrs. Calderon
Matt Malloy ... Charlie
Wesley Jonathan ... Bengel
Michael Peña ... Guillermo
Michael Welch ... Ryan Pollard


As a detached kid spends time in juvenile hall for the unspeakable murder of a special needs kid, a writer and the people around him try to comprehend and cope with his reasoning for commiting this murder from the writings in a classroom book from his juvenile class, where he tries to let people know "the why". Written by gavin Johns

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

boy | book | writer | teacher | author | See All (167) »


Crime. Confusion. Compassion. They're all just states of mind.



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language and some drug content | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


Although they don't share any scenes together, this is the first time Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams have appeared in the same film. Seven years later, they co-starred in the film Blue Valentine (2010). See more »


In the scene where Becky and Leland are walking at around 2 in the morning, in the background you can see it begin to rain, but both Leland's and Becky's clothes remain perfectly dry. See more »


[first lines]
Leland: When I say I don't remember that day, I'm not lying. Wish I did, but I just don't. Sometimes the most important stuff goes away. Goes away so bad, it's like it was never there to begin with. It's funny the stuff that sticks in your head. I could tell you forward and backward about one day when I was five, and my dad bought me a stupid ice cream cone. I could tell you the flavor of the ice cream. It was pick bubblegum. Even stuff about the girl who scooped it out. Her hair was fire ...
See more »


Featured in Anatomy of a Scene: The United States of Leland (2004) See more »


Set It On Fire
Written and Performed by Jeremy Enigk
Published by Trigger Street Music
Produced by BC Smith
String Arrangements and orchestrations by Edgardo Simone and BC Smith
Drums: William Goldsmith
See more »

User Reviews

Good acting; flawed story/psychology; not a total loss
13 May 2004 | by Bob Pr.See all my reviews

The title comes from an alteration an adolescent inmate in a correctional facility makes on the front cover of his school book on government, titled "The United States;" he adds "of (his name)."

Many characterizations in this movie work well -- the scenes between Leland (Ryan Gosling) and Becky (Jena Malone), Pearl (Don Cheadle) and father Fitzgerald (Spacey) as well as with Leland, Becky and sister Julie (Michelle Williams), among many others.

But the central thread of this movie -- the fulcrum on which everything hangs -- is the character and motives of Leland. He's a somewhat shy, passive, nice high school student who daringly introduces himself to Becky whom (we find) is going to an alternative school because of a past history of drug problems. In Becky's family, she has a sister, Julie, who's just graduating from high school and preparing to go on to college; Julie's boy friend, Julie's age (and whose parents' had recently died) is also living with them.

Leland lives with his mother; his father (Kevin Spacey) and mother have long been divorced and his father is a famous novelist. Leland is very perceptive. The young boy in "The Sixth Sense" saw dead people; Leland sees teenage lovers and recognizes that years later they will divorce, that pain is going to follow many people's present experience of happiness. BUT, for reasons that are never made explicit, his prescient gift seems to operate some times, for some people, some relationships, and not for others. ???

Parts of the movie feel a bit like a derivative quilt -- borrowing from "American Beauty," "The Sixth Sense," "The Graduate," and possibly some others I didn't recognize. That wouldn't be bad if only the character of Leland worked.

I think Gosling did a great job of playing Leland but the script and the story imposed limitations. Would such an observant, meditative young man ever be homicidal? Even for altruistic reasons? Nothing in the film gives a reason for this. I'm a retired therapist with much experience working with families and teenagers; while many of the reactions shown in the film work -- this part, this most essential element certainly does not.

And there is at least one other element which, in my experience, would not fit with real life although it's not as critical. The reason for the differences between the sisters, Becky and Julie, are never hinted at but that's okay. Once two sibs begin occupying different roles (one the all good girl, the other the troubled one), the roles themselves can begin driving each other to more extreme positions. For the troubled one, Becky, it's kind of, "what do I have to do to be loved around here -- give up being me and become Julie?" And the pressure to live up to being the All-Good, parent-pleasing child, is no less intense on Julie. So, why would she break up with her boy friend of long-standing and of whom her parents so obviously approve?

Don Cheadle was good as Leland's teacher; all others were good in their parts. 98% of the scenes were good. What was missing was that crucial slip in understanding human nature.

Good acting; flawed story and psychology; worth seeing; not a total loss.

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Release Date:

25 March 2005 (Italy) See more »

Also Known As:

The United States of Leland See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$48,384, 4 April 2004

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


| (Ontario)

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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