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The United States of Leland is a probing look at the aftermath of a crime that defies explanation. Driven by the quest to uncover the truth, the film insists there are no easy answers at the heart of a tragedy, but rather, a multi-layered web of desires, fears and missed chances that add up to a single moment of violence. The only thing that remains is a chance to change the future.
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When smart, quiet suburban student Leland Fitzgerald (Ryan Gosling) commits a shocking crime, he becomes the center of a maelstrom of people trying to understand what he did and why, from his famous but absent father (Kevin Spacey), to his troubled ex-girlfriend (Jena Malone) to the victim’s devastated family. The only person Leland trusts is Pearl (Don Cheadle), a jaded juvenile hall teacher and aspiring writer who helps Leland to examine the truth of his crime. Yet, Pearl too, has his own exploitative agenda, using Leland to garner material for a book and further his own career – until he begins to see that Leland is giving him something he never expected; not the concrete answer he seeks, or the literary fame he hopes for, but the realization that now is the time to change his own life for the better.