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L.I.E. of the land, © The Boston Phoenix

by Peg Aloi

The irony about L.I.E., Michael Cuestaís frank depiction of, well, pedophilia, is that, because of its NC-17 rating, the very kids it concerns wonít be able to get in to see it ó at least not legally. Co-writer Steve Ryder, a gruff but erudite ex-cop ( " Wanna see my scars? " ), decries what he calls " homophobia, pure and simple ó the shallow prejudice of a bunch of bored housewives in Orange County. These people remind me of Joseph McCarthy, who was a reprehensible drunk. Blacks and Jews and Communists and gays have already been demonized in this country, and the next group to represent pure evil is pedophiles. "

Brian Cox, whose terrifying performance as Big John will no doubt be compared to Dylan Bakerís similar portrayal in Todd Solondzís Happiness, says, " You can have Mark Wahlberg attached to a dead prosthetic in Boogie Nights, or you can have the young girl with the older guy in American Beauty, and that is somehow acceptable. So this is clearly part of a hysterical witch hunt, a de facto rejection of homosexuality by a group of mindless, middle-aged morons. "

Does Cox think the lack of explicit sex is somehow more damning to this pictureís reception?

" Absolutely. Itís because there is no explicit sex that theyíve given it this NC-17 rating. Because for the people censoring it ó and it is censorship ó less is more. They are afraid of what they imagine to be happening. Itís an American disease. It is mind-boggling that some singer [Elvis] fucks a 14-year-old girl and he gets his head on a stamp, but when it comes to boys, itís a taboo subject. "

Cox uses a culinary analogy to explain the filmís balance. " This film had a little too much red meat at first, I felt, " he says, digging into a heap of French fries, to the amusement of Cuesta. " Originally we had Big John giving Howie a blow job. "

In the final version, two of the filmís most memorable scenes are less graphic exchanges between Big John and 15-year-old Howie, including one where Howie kisses Big Johnís hands only to be gently rebuffed. " Thatís a magical scene, " proclaims Billy Kay, who plays pansexual bad boy Gary. The other scene is where Big John shaves Howieís peach-fuzzed chin. I point out that some have found this threatening.

Kay laughs. " Whaaat?? Thatís crazy! " Cox shakes his head and says, " I have no idea what would make someone think that, " then nods toward actor Paul Franklin Dano, whose quiet manner belies the power of his screen debut. " Tell you what, though ó this young man has a lot of courage. " When asked how he coped with such a demanding role, Dano is humble: " I really just tried to do what Michael asked for in each scene. "

And how does Cox respond to questions about Big Johnís sympathetic qualities? " It all comes down to the individual watching. They all bring their prejudices to it. This character is a human being; he has a dark side, which is not acceptable and not accepted, and I donít think we shy away from that. We see him using very, very explicit language, but then we see him performing acts of altruism. " Cuesta adds, " This guyís got a mom. He makes breakfast for Howie and enjoys it! I think it is refreshing to see that this guy is just a guy. "