by Laura Kyle
L.I.E is one of the most startling films I’ve seen in recent memory. Director and co-screenwriter Michael Cuesta, a newbie to moviemaking in 2001, gives us more than a comfortable glimpse into the life of neglected 15-yr-old Howie Blitzer (Paul Dano) and his pedophilic predator/protector Big John (Brian Cox).Howie’s mother died in a car accident on the L.I.E. (Long Island Expressway) and his workaholic father (Bruce Altman) is still busy with phone calls, and a little corruption on the side, etc, except he’s now added a woman, or sexual partner really, to his list of distractions from parenthood.
"A must-see you won't want to watch."
Howie hangs out with a gang of similarly-troubled kids: Kevin (James Costa) is a dullard (and L.I.E.'sonly comic relief), who also happens to be banging his sister, Brian (Tony Michael Donnelly) is probably the most well-intentioned, level-headed member of the young pack of thieves, and Gary (Billy Kay, resembling a young Christian Bale) is the tough, though mysterious leader.
All these kids are adults, or at least they think they are. Their society and family has abandoned them and they're all too aware they can’t survive in their world as children.
Howie’s father tells him: “Why don’t you take care of yourself? I took care of myself.”
Gary has an odd seduction over Howie, who is at first ignorant of Gary’s sketchy back-story. The two loot a house, Gary’s idea, and ultimately Howie gets involved with Big John, the resident pimp… for young boys, that is. It’s a disturbing relationship, though understandable from Howie’s vantage point.
As worthy of its R rating (I believe there's an NC-17 version as well, not sure which one I caught!) as any other envelope-pushing film, L.I.E. is still not at all graphic – it’s in the chilling, though strangely sympathetic performance of Brian Cox and the raw (not to mention, brave!) delivery from Paul Dano that cause the film to resonate with such dark, frustrating realism.
Bruce Altman is also spot-on and Billy Kay is quite extraordinary in his understated portrayal of an adolescent who’s already been chewed up and spit out by the fringes of New York, we assume long before the first scene of the film. Is Gary, a kid who’s been clean of childlike innocent for quite some time now, a future version of Howie? We certainly hope not. And Cuesta (as well as screenwriter Stephen Ryder of course) doesn't necessarily doom his young protagonist.
The only complaint I can really muster up for L.I.E. is I felt it a bit underwritten – the scene where Howie has his Big Moment of Clarity wasn’t nearly as thrilling as it was probably intended to be. It’s difficult to say how the script is lacking, because there’s not a single goof – in dialogue, plot devices – L.I.E. is simply subtler than I would’ve liked. I felt the strong cast of actors, perhaps, had more than their share of the storytelling weight on their shoulders, but fortunately they were more than up to the task.Cuesta’s villains are hardly one-dimensional, which is the primary reason L.I.E. is so effectively disconcerting. As condemnable as Big John is, he is a worryingly believable character. Not to mention, he is like the Hannibal Lector of child molesters – Cox gives Big John a touch of charm that just makes it all the more eerie. Equal parts grandfatherly, pathetic, and despicable, Big John is a character that will haunt you long after the end credits.
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originally posted: 08/05/05 14:13:04