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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 29.55%
Average: 15.91%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 20 user ratings

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by Greg Muskewitz

"A monster that is human."
4 stars

L.I.E., an acronym for Long Island Expressway, is the debut film by Michael Cuesta. It is one of the first films in a while to be released with an NC-17 rating, which is ridiculous considering that there is no content that teenagers should be prevented from seeing.

It is the story of a derelict 15-year-old boy Howie (Paul Franklin Dano) who falls in with the wrong type of friends, the type who find breaking-and-entering and robbery, appropriate extracurricular activities. The boy has a curious affinity for one of the other boys, Gary (Billy Kay), who is flamboyantly something. During a routine robbery by Howie and Gary one night, they are spied in the act and almost caught. The victim, Big John (Brian Cox)—a middle-aged heavyset man—knows to follow up after Gary, and we learn they have dealt with each other in the past. Soon thereafter, Gary splits and the awkward relationship that was building between he and Howie is abandoned, and an even more interesting one is established between Howie and Big John. A friendship begins to form, mentor-ishly on Howie’s behalf, but sexually on John’s, a gay pedophile, or maybe the correct term is hebephile; as he tells Howie, “I’m the best cocksucker in the entire Western Hemisphere.” (His license plate, “BJ,” stands for Big John, but could also be an abbreviation for blowjob.) Howie, who is probably just coming into sexual curiosity is never deemed gay, straight or bisexual, but with the poor father figure he has and the compassionate interest that Big John has approached him in, he doesn’t reject the inappropriate pursuit. (He tells the boy, “Five-inches is a tremendous amount of rain, but it isn’t a lot of dick.”) All of what is contained in L.I.E. is slightly more complex than that, but it’s hard to elaborate without being so much more specific. Written by Cuesta, Stephen M. Ryder and Gerald Cuesta, there are definitely hitches they face along the way. It was a mighty clumsy swipe that completely eliminated Gary from the storyline, which in turn left somewhat of a hollowness at the root; the move was a drastic one. Once it transitions, bumps and all, and the motives and direction become far more clear, the edges are smoothed and the progression tightens, the up-the-sleeve trick is probably more unique than the direction the film had been going in. To take a character, who by its very nature would be demonized into a monster in name and appearance, and give it a human face and fallible actions, and still be able to present him without malevolence, it quite a wonder. I credit Cuesta, in his directing, along with the other Cuesta and Ryder in their writing for the presentation and construction of the two main characters. It is probably more realistic and bound to happen than most would care to admit: It’s almost frightful in a way, how such a respectable, involved person on the outside can contain some of the most wicked and disagreeable traits that no parent would want their children to get involved with. The presentation of Big John and his acknowledged flaw is unnerving but at times, seemingly normal; he knows he is wrong, but it is in his nature and so he tries to be as discreet and responsible about it as possible. It never comes off as acceptable behavior to the audience—or at least it shouldn’t—but for as deplorable as his private life is, Cuesta doesn’t judge him. That ability in films, to be able to make up your own mind about the characters without everything being so definitive and clear cut is not very common in most films nowadays, or ever. Cox gives a marvelous, eerie, but superior performance as the monster with a face and a heart. It’s probably one of the best things I have seen this year in a true attention-grabbing or at least attention-worthy performance, and it’s a tough role, a veritable challenge and a risky one at that. Now that it is finalized and is something that can be admired as a masterful accomplishment, surely it is a relief off of someone’s shoulders who didn’t know how it could affect their perception afterwards. Dano as the neglected hobbledehoy is also a talented find, an un-self-conscious talent who doesn’t possess much of the general Hollywood appeal, ergo making his realness not superficial or affected. He is partly overwritten—of the creed that puts more words in a youth’s mouth than would truly be found there—and as noticeable as it is, it doesn’t hurt the character or Dano’s performance. He can handle the spotlight without any qualms and there are no questions over his talent or competence to shoulder a lot of the work. But when the nitty gets to the gritty at the end of the year, it will be Cox who is remembered and hopefully awarded, or at least recognized for his as-of-yet peerless work. On a separate note, Michael Cuesta should stray away from the digital camera tricks and excessive editing, and treat the technical faculties as delicately as he does his characters.

With Bruce Altman and Marcia DeBonis.

If there was a time to boycott the MPAA, there’s no better time than now. After all the flak that Hollywood has been getting recently from the politicians who will do anything to take the limelight off of them, it is only forcing directors to be more sneaky and give cause for ten thousand different director’s cut by the time the DVD comes out. And of course, from most there are no complaints, because in many instances, it’s just one more way to line pockets with cash. But the MPAA needs to be radically changed. L.I.E. was rated with an NC-17. I couldn’t figure out why. There were two brief sex scenes between the boy’s father and his girlfriend, but all you saw were their butts, and it wasn’t anything close to being explicit. So I went to the review of the film the in New York Times for the rating reason and read, “...for its depiction of sexual relationships between a middle-aged man and several teenage boys.” Um, the purpose of the MPAA is supposedly to heed warning to parents over things that their children might want to see; to provide a guide. Even that is dubious in practice. I can see how they would rate something like Baise-moi an NC-17 (actually, they choose to release it unrated), but that's because it’s pretty much a violent porno. What does the MPAA think they are protecting children from in this?!

I’m not gay, and I’m not adamant about standing up for gay and lesbian rights (but I'm not adamant about standing up for many rights at all, for that matter), but the MPAA has repeatedly shown how homophobic and biased they are when it comes to gay-themed movies. Ebert used to point it out all the time, with movies like Get Real, where there is no nudity or sex, and mild language (compared to movies like Pooty Tang that can still get a PG-13 no matter how pervasive the language is) and yet it still gets an R. And with The Deep End, the rating reason for the R among other things, is a “strong sex scene,” which in reality is like a booty-shot compared to what a Scary Movie or an American Pie gets away with.

I’m offended by the way the MPAA does business. They have absolutely no consistency, and are totally biased and run by the studios. L.I.E. is put out by Lot 47, a miniscule distribution company. Aside from releasing it unrated, they have no other choice or opportunity to fight back (aside from editing it, which a) there was nothing to edit here, and b) is a compromise on an artistic vision, like it is for the video version of Requiem for a Dream). Whereas, say 20th Century Fox only had drop a couple big bills on the laps of the MPAA to avoid an R for Titanic.

I think it is time filmmakers should really start fighting back and rebel against this baloney. Audiences need to stand up as well because it is a preposterous and inept game of politics that has no substantial point to be in existence. It’s about time that the conniving, counterfeit system known as the Motion Picture Association of America is finally remonstrated.

Final Verdict: B+.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 09/17/01 13:48:34
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User Comments

1/28/07 blah The movie is really good. But the NC-17 rating goes WAY to far. 18A would be best. 5 stars
1/24/04 I Would Brilliant perfomances, but fails to hold interest throughout its duration, crap ending too. 3 stars
2/03/03 natasha_theobald still with me weeks after seeing it 4 stars
12/02/02 .Choadushouse. It was really a beautiful movie...but so hard to enjoy with all the subject matters. See it 4 stars
10/21/02 LessThanColleen Great acting and unique. I was kinda pissed when Gary left...same w/ the ending 4 stars
10/11/02 Butterbean An interesting film about father/son conflict. 5 stars
8/19/02 JamieRich Good Film... lousy "fag must die" cliche ending 4 stars
8/11/02 Nolan Prather This is the best movie I have ever seen 5 stars
7/07/02 The Bomb 69 awesome debut by Cuesta, world really is this twisted 5 stars
6/08/02 ownerofdajoint a truly perceptive and nonjudgmental look at the twisted world some folks have to live in.. 5 stars
3/29/02 brentley The MPAA is a total joke. Homoeroticism! Eeeek!!! Avert your eyes, or you'll become gay! 5 stars
10/26/01 Jimmy James An awesome film...MPAA is a joke 5 stars
10/15/01 Wes Good acting, although the film leaves you wondering 4 stars
10/01/01 pilchen_r treats strong new subject matter with tenderness 4 stars
9/28/01 BillyKayFan Great, this movie should not have a NC17 rating, It was so great. I recommend highly 5 stars
9/23/01 Thor-Leo Too many good things to recount. NC-17 is totally, absurdly unwarranted. Gimme a break. 5 stars
9/16/01 Lee Chesnut Well done, well acted, realistically portrayed 4 stars
9/11/01 bockharn An affecting compendium of the ways fathers -- real and surrogate -- can fail sons 5 stars
9/10/01 Fusskins A powerful movie that depicts children as human beings. Valenti is a hypocrite. 5 stars
7/28/01 jojo murphy billy kay is awesome we needed to see more of him 5 stars
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  14-Sep-2001 (NC-17)



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