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Pedophilia is an extremely sensitive issue and for good reason. L.I.E. features a character who more specifically is an ephebophile which means that he's attracted to mid-to-late adolescents from the ages of 15-19 years old. The film is director Michael Cuesta's directorial debut and it's definitely a bold way to start his career.
The movie had some difficulty with its rating from the MPAA, which gave it an NC-17 rating. Today the NC-17 isn't the kiss of death it once was but back then it was a disaster. There weren't many outlets that showed NC-17 films and I imagine that's still the case now at least to a certain extent. Cinema runs on money-making accessible films which L.I.E. is not. Cuesta decided to release the film unrated to avoid the NC-17 tag but it's not like it went on to gross very much anyway. I'd say that $1.6 million on a $700,00 budget isn't too shabby for a controversial piece like this. Personally, the NC-17 rating is a little overboard but that's not to say that this movies doesn't deal with some pretty serious stuff.
Howie Blitzer's (Paul Dano) mom dies, leaving him with his uncaring and ever-busy father (Bruce Altman). He's a crooked contractor who brings a new woman into the house very quickly, which deeply upsets Howie. He becomes friends with a local delinquent named Gary Terrio (Billy Kay) who also becomes an influence for Howie's sexual preferences. Their friendship leads to him getting entangled with "Big" John Harrigan (Brian Cox), a popular man in the neighborhood but who secretly leads a life of sexual activity with adolescents. It all makes for a pretty difficult situation for Howie to say the least.
So it's pretty clear that this is a movie you have to buckle up for. In terms of making you squirm as a viewer, L.I.E. is pretty good at that. There are many prickly situations that will make you extremely uncomfortable and a big reason for that is because of Brian Cox's brilliant acting. Taking on the role of someone like Big John isn't easy to do but Brian gets it.
The thing about L.I.E. is that it's not really an anti-pedophile movie. Brian Cox isn't the real antagonist of the film and he goes through actual character growth. I can understand the kind of outrage that could be generated as a result of not completely villainizing Big John but he's still a human right? Watching L.I.E. puts you in an uncomfortable position but it's one that's worth being in. It's up to the viewer to make their judgements and Cuesta lets you do that. He doesn't just force feed the viewer a certain position which I respect.
I would describe the cinematography as uncomfortably intimate. Faces are focused on very closely and there are many lingering, slow shots. The major locations offset each other very nicely as well. Howie's home is a modern but cold environment which contrasts with Big John's place which is a much older house. The decor is earthy, hot and almost claustrophobic. Cuesta has done a good job at marrying all the different aspects of the film to nicely fit together.
To finish off I also have to mention Paul Dano's great performance as a confused 15 year-old. I've never seen Dano in a movie where he was so young but he definitely has talent. He's all the same an intelligent kid who is just in a bad situation. L.I.E. is not for the faint of heart or the easily offendable. Watch it and make your own interpretation, L.I.E. is definitely worthy of that.
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