Fatuous twaddle posing as a really deep consideration of what's wrong with our crazy, mixed-up world, Matthew Ryan Hoge's slick but deeply dumb film unfolds in a picture-perfect suburb of Anywheresville, USA. Teenaged Leland P. Fitzgerald (Ryan Gosling), son of a world-famous novelist (Kevin Spacey), is arrested for the shocking murder of a mentally challenged youngster. The shocking part is that Leland wasn't a troublemaker: A quiet, studious loner, he had befriended the dead boy and was dating his troubled junkie sister, Becca (Jena Malone). Remanded to a local juvenile facility, Leland meets aspiring novelist Pearl Madison (Don Cheadle), who underwrites his literary aspirations by teaching youthful offenders. Pearl (whose goofy name justifies a pointless story about his parents' admiration for '70s hoop star Earl "The Pearl" Monroe) smells a great book in Leland's apparently random act of violence. "We've never had a case like him," Pearl declares passionately to the supervisor who's reluctant to allow him to spend extracurricular time with Leland. "Nobody has! "Say what? Eighty years ago one pointless murder by a pair of educated, alienated young killers was "the crime of the century," but in an age when homicidal Holden Caulfields are so thick on the ground that it takes a Columbine Massacre to warrant national attention, that's just dumb. Hoge, who taught juvenile offenders in Los Angeles, apparently learned nothing more than that some young killers are disarmingly smart and sensitive and some law-abiding citizens are creeps; for an adult his moral sense is awfully juvenile. He comes dangerously close to endorsing Leland's too-sensitive-to-live perception that murdering Ryan to save him from a life of condescension is purer than cheating on your wife or girlfriend. It all comes down to how you look at it, hence the movie's trademark visual device: Various characters close first one eye then the other, and we see shots of what they're seeing from two very different perspectives. Heavy. Hoge also appears to think the measure of Leland's absentee father is that he pencils apostrophes into mispunctuated magazine ads and corrects Pearl for saying "disinterested" when he means "uninterested." A writer who cares about proper word use and punctuation: Leland's dad must be an ass. The film's strong cast, which includes Lena Olin as Leland's mother, Martin Donovan and Michelle Williams as the dead boy's father and sister, and Kerry Washington as the unwitting party to Pearl's betrayal of his out-of-town girlfriend, do their best to provide depth and complexity where there is none.
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