Directed by Michael Cuesta starring Paul Franklin Dano, Brian Cox and Billy Kay.
Ex-Marine, thoughtful son, popular guy, pederast. Big John Harrigan (Cox) is known as all these different things to the people who live around the Long Island Expressway. And Gary (Kay), the teenage petty thief who turns tricks for him, also knows that Harrigan is loaded. So, over on the right side of the L.I.E, he persuades his rich hero-worshipping friend Howie (Dano) to rob Harrigan's house with him. But the break-in is botched, and even though the boys escape with some valuable spoils, their actions are set to draw the lives of Harrigan and Howie together.
While roundly praised by critics, 'L.I.E.' took just $1m Stateside, and its earnings point to a film whose questioning and controversial nature was always destined to make audiences stay away. Those that did missed excellent performances from Dano and Cox and a story which never resorts to sensationalism in its troubling study of people wanting to find a way out.
The motorway's abbreviation is both a metaphor for the two-way traffic in the burgeoning relationship between Howie and Harrigan and a word play on the lives they cannot admit to others. As the film progresses, the confusion Howie feels over his feelings for tearaway Gary is mirrored in Harrigan's dilemma of just who he should be to the 15-year-old.
With his home life in tatters, Howie considers Harrigan as both protector and predator, but realises he has more power over the situation than the man initially gives him credit for. In Howie, Harrigan sees a chance for redemption from the self-loathing of his life and a chance to live up to the qualities which the community-at-large are so willing to believe he possesses.
First time director Cuesta knows it's far easier to disturb people with what they don't see and concentrates more on developing Harrigan than his trawling of rest-stops. In Cox, he has an actor capable of bringing such complexity to the role that you're swung from one emotion to the other. And while nearly a half-an-hour goes by before he gets any meaningful dialogue, his portrayal of charisma and creepyness even looms over subsequent scenes when he doesn't appear.
But despite ensuring the character study doesn't become an exposé, the disappointment is that Cuesta closes the film all too abruptly. While the ending works in terms of Howie's growing maturity, Harrigan's fate seems tacked on and doesn't sit comfortably with the mood of the film. You'll feel as if there needed to be another reel to delve further into the conflict in a man's heart over what he is and what he aspires to be.
In this respect, 'L.I.E.' is a missed opportunity, but the fine work of its older and younger star put that complaint in the background.