It's another spin on moody middle-class teens derailed by drugs, family tragedy, and just the unbelievably heavy weight of the world. We start in high gear with the murder of a young retarded boy by super-sensitive Leland (Ryan Gosling), who once dated the victim's druggie sister. The film tracks Leland's time in a youth detention center, intercut with scenes from his past coaxed out of him by the prison's teacher, Pearl Madison (Don Cheadle). Madison is seeking the "why," not least because he is also an aspiring author, and sees "material" in Leland's story. A subplot involving Madison's philandering is irrelevant and distracting. Despite the shocking subject matter, this feature debut from writer and director Matthew Ryan Hoge feels very familiar, with mopey actors cued to sad indie music, like In the Bedroom
scaled down for the OC
crowd. Gosling and Cheadle are better than this trite material; Kevin Spacey (who co-produced) drops in as Leland's icy asshole of an absent father; and the remaining ensemble cast hasn't much else to do but look shell-shocked. By the end, Hoge's film, which wants to say the right things, is just a rather dull moral muddle.