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L. I. E.

© Film Pick of the Week

There is a fantastic moment in director Michael Cuestaís film L.I.E., in which the 15-year-old hero, Howie (Paul Franklin Dano), having been ensnared in the lustful gaze of an older man, gingerly moves from fear into more complex layers of emotion and reaction, with the transition fluttering on his face. Dominating the revelations is the realization of his own power. Itís an epiphany in which Howie glimpses previously unimagined possibilities, and in that moment, he transforms himself from prey into a willing partner in a dance of longing and transgression. When the film opens, Howieís mom has been dead for over a year, killed in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway, a symbol of death and escape evoked throughout the movie, both in Howieís voice-over recollections and in his fantasies of hitting the road and running away. Howieís father, consumed by his job and a new girlfriend, is oblivious to his sonís lingering grief. The void is filled by the boyís crush on his cute, morally bankrupt best friend, Gary (Billy Kay), who introduces him to a world of misdemeanor kicks (breaking and entering after school) and to burly Big John (Brian Cox), neighborhood war hero and pedophile. A series of betrayals by Gary ó whose own secret life is rooted in a desire to flee his working-class background ó forces Howie to take refuge in Big Johnís home, where nothing is what he thought it would be. Big John is both a patient father figure and a smooth seducer ó with more emphasis placed on the former, which is, of course, part of the seduction. Only 15 years old, Dano handles the emotional demands of his character with astonishing aplomb, while Coxís charming pedophile will infuriate so many precisely because heís so recognizably human; the film neither excuses nor demonizes him. The biggest triumph, though, is Cuestaís. (He co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Gerald, and Stephen M. Ryder.) The young director deftly explores that tricky area between sexual vulnerability and agency, between innocence and the slow awakening to the power of sex and sexuality. (Sunset 5, Monica 4-Plex, Westside Pavilion Cinemas, Playhouse 7)