The United States of Leland

  • Review Date: September 7, 2004
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2004

Common Sense Media says

Uneven drama that's too intense for kids.
  • Review Date: September 7, 2004
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2004





What parents need to know


A teenager murders a developmentally disabled boy. The movie's premise is very upsetting.


Sexual references and situations.


Very strong language.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Drug use, including heroin, drinking, smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this movie has very mature themes. A teenager murders a developmentally disabled boy. Characters drink (reference to alcohol abuse), smoke, take drugs (a teenager is addicted to heroin), and use extremely strong language. There are sexual references and situations.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

Kids say

What's the story?

Leland (Ryan Gosling) seems like a reasonably pleasant and easy-going kid. And then one day he kills a developmentally disabled boy, the brother of his girlfriend. It isn't that no one seems to know the reason. It seems that there just was no reason. Leland had always been polite to everyone and kind and gentle with the boy, volunteering to walk him home from school. A cop dismisses Leland as just another SFK (sick f-ing kid). But he does not seem angry or violent or unstable. He does not even seem upset. He is cooperative, truthful, and placid. In the juvenile facility, teacher and frustrated writer Pearl (Don Cheadle), is intrigued and decides to write Leland's story. Leland's father (Kevin Spacey) is a successful novelist who can write sensitive stuff, but is aloof, even merciless in his interactions with other people. He can't help Leland, but he can stop Pearl from exploiting his story. But Leland wants someone to listen, and Pearl is all he has.

Is it any good?


THE UNITED STATES OF LELAND is an overly plotted but beautifully acted movie. The script has the overheated, overblown, over-everything feel of an actor's exercise extravaganza. Each character has some major emotional challenge and it gets overloaded and distracting. But the individual moments, especially Gosling's performance, are sensitive and moving and the issues of the damage we inflict on ourselves and each other are worth examining, even less than successfully.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why Leland showed no emotion about what he did. Why was telling the story important to him? Why was it important to Pearl? What did Leland's father want for Leland? Why was Mrs. Calderon so important to Leland? What does the story of Pearl's name tell us?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 2, 2004
DVD release date:September 6, 2004
Cast:Chris Klein, Jena Malone, Ryan Gosling
Director:Matthew Ryan Hoge
Studio:Paramount Pictures
Run time:104 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language and some drug content

This review of The United States of Leland was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written bybrtd April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age
Teen, 14 years old Written bylolakitty12 December 25, 2011

Lots of intense content, but great movie!

Although this movie did not get good reviews, it is one of my personal favorites. It has some slow scenes, but the flashbacks are interesting and drive the plot well. Also, instead of getting a definite reason, the audience is left to find the 'why' themselves throughout the film. Language is extremely strong, and there are quite a few references to sexual stuff. Drugs are also used. Disturbing violence is implied, but never shown onscreen. (except for the aftermath). Great movie and I do recommend it!

What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Top Kids' Movies: An Essential Guide for Families