Despite a rocky start, L.I.E. proves to be a powerful movie in the long run, with great performances from Brian Cox and a young Paul Dano. Dano plays a Howie Blitzer, a fifteen-year-old juvenile delinquent whose dad is an inattentive swindler, and whose friends are leading him down the wrong path quick. The school guidance counselor senses that Howie is different, but Howie thinks that it is too late to be saved, and spirals deeper and deeper into disaffected adolescent crime.
One day Howie and his friends break into the house of Big John Harrigan (Brian Cox,) Irish-American Vietnam veteran and pedophile and steal two valuable guns from him. Harrigan finds Howie and tricks him into thinking he’s a friend of Howie’s late mother’s, and he grooms and attempts to seduce the boy, using threat of legal action for the missing guns to his advantage. Thus begins a icky, and very odd turn of events where the kid realizes that a monster is his only lifeline.
L.I.E. was originally rated NC-17, and probably crosses the line with child actors as much as it can be crossed in an American movie. Even more disturbing than the pedophilic content and the sweaty, horny, hazed portrayal of out-of-control teen behavior, is the ambiguity concerning the relationship between an adult and a child. It is easy to portray a child molester as a teeth-gnashing sex fiend. It is hard to portray them as human. Don’t get me wrong, I think pedophiles are evil and will get their karma in the afterlife. But many of them were made that way, not born bad. They have human attributes and psychological reasons for doing what they do- to portray them as solely mustache-twirling villains is to deny the complexity of life.
The first ten minutes or so of this movie disappointed me- it seemed like they were trying way too hard to be shocking and edgy. It’s Harmony Korine syndrome- let’s show just how disgusting people can be! The scene where the boy is talking about screwing his sister didn’t ring true to me, nor did the scene with the boys being blown behind street signs. You have to get a little farther in to get to the good part. Brian Cox is chilling. He vacillates between being charming and repugnant. The fact that you begin to like him- just a little- shows the brilliance of the character dynamics.
L.I.E.‘s terrifying. It’s more terrifying than The Conjuring or the Human Centipede movies because it can happen, and is happening… outside our doors, in our neighborhoods, and maybe, just maybe, in our houses. Because Big John is only as scary as the society he inhabits, which neglects our children, raises a generation of ‘latchkey kid,’ and grows them up to be disaffected and attention-starved. It allows these things to happen. An abrupt ending makes you question what it all really meant. Not easy or kid-friendly, but relevant.