L.I.E.

Howie (Paul Franklin Dano) is an aimless 15-year-old house burglar who, along with his friend Billy (Gary Terrio), breaks into the wrong house one night. The homeowner, burly former Marine “Big John” Harrigan (Brian Cox), tracks down Howie and takes the boy under his wing, gently mentoring him and offering nonjudgmental friendship. Problem with this picture: Big John is also a pederast. Yet he does genuinely seem to want to help Howie, and even refuses Howie’s offer of sex. Is Big John redeemable? Or is he just gaining the boy’s trust in order to move in for the kill? Michael Cuesta’s complex drama benefits immeasurably from a brave, layered, and damnably likable performance by Brian Cox, who seems to have made a list of all the cheap, easy ways Big John could have been played and then decided to do the opposite of each. One minute Big John seems like a good guy, the next you’re reminded of something that renders him nauseating or at least pathetic. An entire book could be written about Cox’s work here, such as the way Big John’s show-offy patriotism plays like a cover story but at the same time seems honestly felt. The movie was stupidly rated NC-17, even though aside from an early sex scene between Howie’s dad and a woman there’s nothing particularly explicit except the disturbing emotions explored between the characters.

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