Movies: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

A striking, unnerving coming-of-age film, "L.I.E." is the rare American movie that isn't afraid of ambiguity or confronting an audience's preconceptions. First-time director Michael Cuesta (who wrote the screenplay with Stephen M. Ryder and Gerald Cuesta) presents us with characters who elude our snap judgments. The 15-year-old hero, Howie (Paul Franklin Dano), is a disaffected suburban kid who's lost all the moorings in his life. His mother died in a crash on the Long Island Expressway (the L.I.E. of the title). His negligent father, a crooked contractor, is about to be hauled off to jail. His best friend, the amoral pretty boy Gary (Billy Kay), is planning to skip town for California. The only person to offer sympathy and a helping hand is a hearty ex-Marine named Big John (Brian Cox). Everyone refers to him as "a pillar of the community," but the boys know better: he's a sexual predator obsessed with underage teenage boys.

The relationship between this fiftysomething man and this smart, needy but resilient boy is at the heart of "L.I.E." It's a queasy courtship, whose balance of power is always shifting, as Howie gets his first sense that he possesses sexual power. As played by the spellbinding Scottish actor Cox, Big John is an ominous, creepy figure, but he's also the only empathetic adult in sight. His concern for Howie is as real as his guilt-ridden desires are out of bounds. Cox wrings every drop of complexity out of this sinister yet oddly sympathetic figure. It's too bad that at the very end "L.I.E." settles for an easy, melodramatic resolution; it flies in the face of everything that makes this perceptive, original movie so special.

L.I.E.Lot 47 Films
Opens Sept. 7