Writer/director Michael Cuesta is a brave man. He released L.I.E. with an NC-17 rating, the kiss of death in modern cinema. Some newspapers will not accept advertising for these films, and some theaters will not book them. Films that initially receive this rating either will usually scale back objectionable content (Eyes Wide Shut) or release the film unrated. Center of the World, Romance, Bully, and Requiem For a Dream are just some of the many examples of the latter. All this fuss surrounding L.I.E. is actually more interesting than the movie itself. The NC-17 is undeserved. There is some sex in the film, but it is tame compared to other R rated movies. The rating is because of the subject matter, a pedophile who befriends a young boy. It is a provocative subject that Cuesta handles delicately, and should be an R just so more people will have the opportunity to see a film like this, definitely different than most other fare.
The boy is Howie Blitzer (Paul Franklin Dano, The Newcomers), a 15 year old in the midst of teen rebellion. His mother died on the Long Island Expressway (the L.I.E) and he does not communicate with his father Marty (Bruce Altman, Girl, Interrupted, The Object of My Affection). Howie is also experiencing sexual confusion. He feels attracted to his new friend Gary (Billy Kay, Time Share, The Newcomers). Gary and his friends rob local houses for fun. Howie joins Gary in one house, where the owner catches them in the act. They escape with two antique guns and lose only a portion of Howie's jeans. It turns out that Gary knows the owner, "Big" John Harrigan (Brian Cox, A Shot at Glory, Mad About Mambo). Unknown to Howie, Gary prostitutes himself along the L.I.E., and Harrigan is one of his johns.
Gary tells Harrigan that Howie is the one who took the guns, and Harrigan quickly zeroes in on Howie. Here is where Cuesta, Stephen Ryder, and Gerald Cuesta's script defies expectations. Howie does not know everything about Harrigan. Harrigan's motives are immediately suspect. One would expect that he wants Howie to become his latest conquest. Cox's performance is frightening. He is a smooth talker to Howie and seemingly a little too friendly at times. One never knows quite what is going on in Harrigan's head. Howie is oblivious to all of this, and mainly wants to avoid any trouble. He gravitates to Harrigan because Harrigan is the only person who is willing to listen to him and spend time with him.
Ambiguity is the key. Cuesta never clearly defines Howie's growing sense of sexuality. Is he attracted to Harrigan? Harrigan himself is trying to sort out his feelings. He does have paternal instincts toward Howie which conflict with is obvious initial attraction. Cuesta never exploits the story, instead favoring introspection. The largest potential controversy is that Cuesta treats Harrigan in an almost sympathetic light. He does not support or condone Harrigan's actions, he merely presents Harrigan as a complex character. As intriguing as L.I.E. potentially can be, the pervasive ambiguity undoes it. The story takes a long time before it begins moving forward. Cuesta does deserve credit for touching upon some explosive issues, but he avoids any real sense of closure with an unsatisfactory conclusion.
|Mongoose Rates It: Okay.|
|1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated NC-17 for some explicit sexual content.|
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