With his mother dead and his father, Marty (Bruce Altman), busy at work, Howie (Paul Franklin Dano) feels adrift in his New York suburb. He and his friend Gary (Billy Kay) spend their time burglarizing their neighbors homes until they make the mistake of robbing the house of Big John (Brian Cox), a macho former Marine who is also an unrepentant pedophile. He propositions Howie, who declines, but the two eventually develop an unlikely and dangerous friendship.
L.I.E. is a 2001 American drama film about a relationship between Howie, a 15-year-old boy, and an ephebophile known as "Big John". The title is an acronym for the Long Island Expressway. The film was directed by Michael Cuesta, who has said that the film is about exploring sexuality. It stars Paul Dano as Howie and Brian Cox as Big John.
In this biting and disturbing coming-of-age tale from writer-director Michael Cuesta, life is bittersweet along the L.I.E., also known as the Long Island Expressway, as suburban teen Howie Blitzer learns all too clearly. In the space of a week, he loses nearly everything and everyone he knows and is left to navigate his adolescence virtually unsupervised.
Howie Blitzer is deeply affected by the death of his mother in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway. His situation is exacerbated by his acrimonious relationship with his distant father Marty, who brought a trophy girlfriend into the house less than a month after his wifes death. Howies only solace is the company of his best friend Gary, a juvenile delinquent and hustler. Although Gary is attracted to Howie, Howie is unsure of his own sexuality. They have two other friends their age, one of whom has an incestuous relationship with his sister. The four boys routinely break into neighborhood houses.
One night, they break into the house of "Big John" Harrigan during his birthday party. Gary knows his way around the house; it is later revealed Big John is one of his steady clients. Big John interrupts them, and they narrowly escape with a pair of valuable North Vietnamese pistols. John later confronts Gary over the burglary and Gary names Howie as his accomplice.
Pretending to be a friend of Howies mother, John introduces himself and invites Howie back to his house. Once there, he confronts Howie about the burglary, demanding the return of the guns. Howie is able to retrieve only one gun from Garys room, so John demands $1000 for the other; Howie can only offer to work off the debt. Putting on a pornographic video, John hints that Howie can repay him with sex. Howie hastily leaves, but after returning home, masturbates to a fantasy involving John and the girl in the video.
Gary steals money from Howies father and disappears to Los Angeles, leaving Howie alone. John and Howie begin a tenuous friendship in which John becomes a kind of father figure to him. There is no sexual activity, but there is talk of sex. Howie realizes that he wields sexual power over John, something John is all too aware of. Howie stays over at Johns house, temporarily displacing Johns 19-year-old lover Scott, who warns Howie not to take John from him. Howie discovers a stash of child pornography in the house, including photos of a younger Gary and a blond 11-year-old boy.
Howies father happens to see him skipping school, and losing his temper he hits the boy. Later that day, he is arrested for dangerous practices in his construction business, and when Howie returns home to find him missing, he believes his father has abandoned him. He goes to John, approaching him in his bedroom wearing just his underpants, expecting they will have sex. But John explains to Howie what happened with his father, and the boy breaks down and cries. John leaves him to sleep by himself.
The next morning, John is all charm, fixing Howie breakfast and taking him to see his father in jail. Howies father apologizes for hitting him, and promises to spend more time with him once he is out of prison. Howie is unconvinced, and merely tells his father never to hit him again.
After dropping Howie off, John returns to the local rest area where young hustlers connect with johns, and sits in his car. Scott, devastated by Johns abandonment, drives by and shoots him dead.
In the final scene, Howie contemplates the expressway, vowing he wont let it get him too.Brian Cox as Big John Harrigan
Paul Franklin Dano as Howie Blitzer
Billy Kay as Gary Terrio
Bruce Altman as Marty Blitzer
Walter Masterson as Scott
James Costa as Kevin Cole
Adam LeFevre as Elliot
Tony Donnelly as Brian
B. Constance Barry as Anne Harrigan
Gladys Dano as Voice of Sylvia Blitzer
Portions of the film were filmed at Harborfields High School, located in Greenlawn, New York, not far from the Long Island Expressway.
Because Paul Dano was underage at the time of production, his mother, Gladys, was present on set and additionally plays the non-speaking role of Howies deceased mother, Sylvia, in several flashback and dream sequences.
Sexual identity is a major theme in the film; director Michael Cuesta has said that the ambiguity of Howies sexual orientation and his relationship with Big John and Gary is at the heart of the film.
Brian Cox has said, "Big John realizes that Howie is much more than a little boy, a young boy he can hit on". Cuesta has said that John is confused, and doesn’t know if he wanted "to be with him, sexually, or just father him".
L.I.E. received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, although the rating was later surrendered and the film was released without a rating. Both an edited version which received an R rating ("for strong sexual content involving teens, language, and brief violence") and the original unrated/uncut film are available on DVD.
L.I.E has a "Certified Fresh" score of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 82 reviews, with an average rating of 7 out of 10. The critical consensus states that: "L.I.E. is a well-acted and unsettling look at a boys relationship with a pedophile." Awards
Independent Spirit Award
Best Debut Performance - Paul Dano
Producers Award - Rene Bastn, Linda Moran, and Michael Cuesta
Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama (Brian Cox)
Independent Spirit Award
Best Lead Actor - Brian Cox
Best Supporting Lead - Billy Kay
Best First Screenplay - Stephen Ryder, Michael Cuesta, and Gerald Cuesta
Best Director - Michael Cuesta
Best Feature - Rene Bastin, Linda Moran, and Michael Cuesta
AFI Featured Actor of the Year - Male - Movies Brian Cox