(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)
Living in a non-Select City as I do, my options for catching the latest Indie movies are few. I can catch a plane to New York City (Dogville), drive to New Orleans (Monsieur Ibrahim) or go to the Siegen Theatre in Baton Rouge (The United States of Leland). When I moved here 8 years ago, it was the top-of-the-line theatre. But now as our only non-stadium-seating theatre, it is trying (not very hard) to attract a few customers by showing Indie films, usually for one week only. It's getting a bit rundown and I've regaled you in the past with stories of broken projectors, movies they forgot to start, and mice running up and down the aisles. Frankly, I'd be happy never to go there again but I found myself there again this week to see The United States of Leland. The theatre contained only 4 other people and one large roach. The roach was sitting quietly on a seat waiting for the movie to start. I was happier sharing the theatre with the roach than with two of the other people who talked through the whole movie even after my polite request to be quiet.
The United States of Leland tells the story of a troubled high school senior (Ryan Gosling), whose troubled parents (Lena Olin and Kevin Spacey) are divorced, and whose troubled girlfriend (Jena Malone) is a heroin addict. Gosling ends up babysitting Malone's retarded brother (Michael Welch) while she is off shooting up. The rest of Malone's family, her parents (Martin Donovan & Ann Magnuson), her sister (Michelle Williams) and her sister's boyfriend (Chris Klein) aren't too troubled until one day when the retarded brother ends up stabbed to death with Gosling as the prime suspect. Gosling ends up in Juvy Hall attending classes with a troubled teacher (Don Cheadle). The rest of the film deals with the troubled cast dealing with their troubles. Spacey is a famous writer and drunk who hasn't seen his son for 10 years. Cheadle is an unknown writer and drunk who is cheating on his girlfriend. I could go on.
This is your average Indie movie by a first-time writer-director (Matthew Hoge). It got made because he managed to convince Spacey to produce and appear in it. The United States of Leland has a nice cast although some of the actors are pretty much wasted. Heaven knows why the wonderful Lena Olin would sign up for a nothing role as Gosling's mother. She is onscreen for maybe 5 minutes and gets to look worried. Spacey's part is not much bigger and he totally phones it in, playing his usual world-weary, alcoholic, smart-alec character. He needs to stop doing this and do something new. Malone (Life as a House, Cold Mountain) is good as Gosling's girlfriend but I don't think that Chris Klein (American Pie, We Were Soldiers) can act.
Cheadle (Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) and Gosling do a good job and get something going as Cheadle tries to find out what made Gosling do this terrible thing, while dealing with his own demons. It's nice to see Cheadle beginning to get some parts that show what a good actor he is. Gosling (The Believer, Murder By Numbers), a graduate of Lester B. Pearson High School in Burlington, Ontario, has definitely got talent. He is pretty mesmerizing on the screen. he and Cheadle make this movie worth seeing. The United States of Leland is pretty good although it doesn't flow that well and at the end you are meant to think that, well, life sucks. But other than finding out that life sucks, it doesn't really go anywhere. So it feels a bit unsatisfying by the end.