Review by: Marc Ashdown | Rating:
DVD FEATURES: Audio commentary from director Michael Cuesta
and actor Brian Cox; Star and director filmographies; Al Catterall
film notes; Deleted scene; Original theatrical trailer; Scene
selection; Region 0.
EVERYONE, to a certain extent, remembers their teenage firsts.
Be it a kiss, a spot, or the initial crude realisation of the
onset of puberty, it's these changes from childhood to adolescence
that awaken us to the beauty and horror of the adult world from
which we've been shielded as youngsters.
It's this eye-opening stage of life around which Michael Cuesta
weaves L.I.E - a bold, if slightly confusing, tale of one boy's
arousal from the safety of childhood and harsh baptism into the
unforgiving real world.
Fifteen-year-old Howie Blitzer (Paul Franklin Dano) lives with
his father, Marty (Bruce Altman), just off the Long Island Expressway
(the LIE of the title).
It's a monstrous freeway, populated by powerful machines, connecting
Howie's smalltown existence, both physically and metaphorically,
with the outside world. It's also responsible for the recent death
of his mother, taken from him in a car crash at exit 52.
Marty's ignorance to his son's needs drives Howie into a life
of petty crime with best friend, Gary (Billy Kay). Their maleficence
is more about kicks than true maliciousness, but one break-in
too many brings Big John Harrigan (Brian Cox) into their world.
It's through the relationships of this trio that the film comes
to life. Big John's a popular pillar of the community, but also
a paedophile engaged in a sex-for-pay arrangement with Billy.
The revelation of his best friend's secret life stirs Howie -
already grappling with the obvious sexual instincts of a teenager
- into questioning his own sexual urges.
Though capturing much of the wild expanses surrounding the
L.I.E, by way of beautifully staged cinematography, it's a
largely claustrophobic film. Howie becomes increasingly backed
into emotional corners; his growing lust for sexual exploration
and liberation at odds with the limitations of such phallocentric
surroundings (indeed, there's only one female of note in the
film - and aptly, a guidance counsellor).
He's on dangerous ground, and it's Cox's Big John who takes
centre stage. His portrayal is courageous: less caricature
and more complex than often the case when tackling paedophilia
- and the paternal instincts and guilt at his own lascivious
desires are interestingly dealt with. While they sit uncomfortably
with his boyish exuberance and warm and cuddly external appearance
to young boys, he never strays into bogeyman territory.
It's perhaps this reluctance by Cox and Cuesta to stereotype
too broadly which adds a feeling of unease as to what his
true motives concerning Howie really are.
Cox especially manages to come across as playfully harmless
in the one instance, yet conjures an edginess to the most
simplistic everyday pleasures: drinking a glass of milk, for
instance. In short, he's never portrayed as particularly bad,
yet our pre-supposition of paedophiles makes this a confusing
Howie's ambivalence towards him is also powerful. By turns,
he views him as father substitute and sexual liberator; who's
counsel and advice he begins to covet and, more disturbingly,
by the climax, almost crave.
Dano's a minor revelation. Along with Kay, he appears the
latest in a line of inexperienced child actors destined for
Disappointingly, the film pulls its punches with a far too
obvious finale, which deflates when it could have been far
more effective and powerful. Sadly, it's only here that Cuesta
abides by exactly the kind of cinematic rules he'd thus far
Pretty much everyone gets what they deserve, though in reality,
we know this is far from always the case. Too many loose ends
may be a bad thing, but tying them all up for the sake of
it is even worse. Sometimes, a few unanswered questions make
far more powerful cinema.
But it does have engaging characters throughout and a darkly
comic touch, which makes it far more enjoyable and less disturbing
than the subject matter would initially suggest.