"L.I.E." (IMDb listing) is an acronym for the Long Island Expressway. The long stretch of freeway in New York responsible for getting millions of people to where they need to go, but also responsible for many grisly deaths, the L.I.E. acts as a metaphor for the bored, damaged characters in "L.I.E."
Howie Blitzer (Paul Franklin Dano) is an affluent Long Island teen who partakes in a little home invasion with his three like-minded friends. One of these buddies is Chris (Billy Kay), a slightly effeminate young man who is the object of desire for a local pederast named Big John Harrigan (Brian Cox). When Howie and Chris rob Big John's house one night, they are almost caught, leaving behind a crucial clue for Big John to follow. As Howie's home life begins to crumble when his father is suspected of embezzlement, the young boy finds solace in the arms of Big John. Acting as more of a surrogate father to Howie than a lover, Big John must confront his own feelings when he is unable to bring himself to seduce Howie.
Plumbing the depths of what many consider to be the most unspeakably horrific fetish, "L.I.E." does so with unusual leniency, complete honesty, and a characteristic low budget. A little dramatically inert at times, Michael Cuesta's picture is still powerful filmmaking that also represents one of the few times any movie has taken the chance and dramatized such a precarious topic as pedophilia.
It's a risk to make this type of film, especially when there aren't any explosions, stars, or hip-hop songs on the soundtrack. "L.I.E." is straightforward. Choosing to tell a story about people engaging in an unpleasant, but very real lifestyle, and not to sermonize on their less than respectable traits. Whatever mistakes Cuesta trips over in trying to find a narrative groove in his film, he still deserves a wealth of kudos for simply braving ahead with this sensitive, yet dangerous film.
So dangerous in fact, that "L.I.E." has earned a NC-17 rating from the bastards of hypocrisy, the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). With the profane "Made" and "Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back" getting away with R ratings (though wonderful films regardless), "L.I.E" was slapped with the kiss of death NC-17 for a tiny amount of sexuality (we never see Big John engaging in sexual activity with children), profanity, and a brief scene of violence. Hardly the stuff of obscenity. Cuesta tackles the pedophilia in such a humane, non-threatening way that it forces you to confront it squarely. I can only imagine how much that got under the skin of the MPAA.
What makes "L.I.E." resonate is the performance of Brian Cox as Big John. An accomplished and respected actor, Cox digs deep into the character and makes a very important choice in his portrayal of this sick man: he doesn't demonize him. The best way for an actor to portray evil is to not make the character appeal evil at all. Big John is a family man who's natural paternal instincts help Howie out of trouble. He also offers the confused boy a chance for stability in the midst of his insane world. These qualities lull the audience into Big John's arms, only to be snapped out again when the pederast goes cruising for kids along the expressway. It's a brave performance from Cox to give himself completely to a character like this.
There are gaps in logic and true character motivation abound in "L.I.E.," yet they do very little to smother the power of the story. "L.I.E." is uncomfortable storytelling, yet the fairness in how the film deals with its subject matter should be recommendation enough to attend this daring picture.
Filmfodder Grade: B