Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, September 28, 2001

Brian Cox, left, stars as Big John Harrigan and Paul
Franklin Dano, right as Howie in Michael Cuesta's "L.I.E."

‘L.I.E.’ presents one truth
of middle-class fringe life

No one under 17 will be allowed
to see this film touching on
the issue of pedophilia

By John Berger

Howie Blitzer is the living definition of "youth at risk." His mother died violently in a car wreck on the Long Island Expressway. His father, an executive of some type, handles the loss by taking up with a sleep-in girl friend; Howie can hear Dad and "the bimbo" going at it in the bed that once belonged to his mother. Howie's best friend, Gary, is a male prostitute who services men he meets at a highway rest stop.

"L.I.E." NC-17

Signature Dole Cannery

Howie, Gary, and two of their friends amuse themselves and make spending money burglarizing homes in their suburban neighborhood. Sometimes they hit homes when the people are at home.

Such is the milieu of four contemporary American teenagers as captured in "L.I.E." The letters are an acronym for Long Island Expressway. The highway goes east and west, and, Howie adds, "straight to Hell."

Howie's life becomes infinitely more complicated when his irresponsible ways capture the eye of Big John Harrigan, a mysterious, well-educated ex-Marine who happens to be one of Gary's rest stop customers. Big John has something on Howie they first time they meet and makes use of his advantage at first. The question from that point on is where -- and how far -- the relationship will go.

Paul Franklin Dano (Howie), Billy Kay (Gary), and Brian Cox (Big John) give stellar performances in three powerful and memorable roles. Cox's amazing portrayal of the conflicted gay pedophile makes Big John seem likable enough, though some of the scenes are very, very creepy.

Kay is so convincing in playing Gary, an amoral manipulative punk, that he's one you'll love to hate. Dano touches the heart with a superb portrayal of a vulnerable and intelligent young man struggling desperately to survive.

Most of the scenes were shot outdoors using shoulder cams. That gives "L.I.E." an added feeling of live-on-the-spot reality. Big John's home is dark and shadowed and ominous.

Put all this together, add a ridiculously wrong-headed NC-17 rating, and "L.I.E." stands as one of the most fascinating new films that mainstream American isn't going to see. See it anyway, if you dare.

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