Director Mehdi Norowzian artfully guides LEO into the realms of cinematic genius. Often using windows and rectangular images to frame his actors, he brings us a quiet, penetrating, and artful tale of a young boy and the renaissance of a young man. Presented with a dual storyline concerning a little boy and a man just released from prison, Norowzian weaves the two storylines flawlessly, and patient viewers will be rewarded with how the storylines relate. Joseph Fiennes is marvelous as (...), the murderer who has been corresponding with an 11 year old boy named Leo (played beautifully by newcomer Davis Sweatt). Upon his release he takes a job at Vic's Diner, wherein he meets the born again owner (a superb Sam Shepard), a waitress we don't know much about but come to identify with (Deborah Kara Unger), and the nasty co-owner and customer, the fiendishly wrought Dennis Hopper. Meanwhile, Fiennes is writing a novel centering on the correspondence he has shared with Leo. The parallel storyline features Elisabeth Shue in a dramatically different role---the wife of a college professor who has surrendered her own goals to raise their daughter. Shue is brilliant as she goes from a seemingly sweet mother to an alcoholic, emotionally abusive one. She is told her professor husband (the marvelous Jake Weber) is having an affair, so she retaliates with a dalliance with the hunky painter (a smarmy but effective Justin Chambers). She reconciles with Weber, but a fateful errand for cold cream brings tragic results and the now pregnant Shue blames herself for their tragic end, resulting in her emotional detachment from her newborn baby boy whom she regards as punishment for her infidelity.
LEO is sometimes frustrating in its complexity, but as the movie unfolds, we are given both a poignant and disturbing look at maternal love, filial devotion, and the sad case of how society can dictate how one reacts. It is a very original movie, well done and worth your time.