L.I.E. review

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Funnily enough, you don't get many films that deal with the topic of teenage boys as sexual fodder for middle-aged men. Who'd be bold - - or foolish - - enough to handle such a hot potato? Surprisingly, not Larry Clark or Todd Solondz, but commercials director Michael Cuesta, whose feature debut offers a coming-of-age tale with an ultra-provocative slant.

Fifteen-year-old Howie Blitzer (Paul Franklin Dano) is a mixed-up juvenile delinquent who's grieving for his mother, neglected by his bimbo-shagging father (Bruce Altman) and confused by his feelings for best friend Gary (Billy Kay). He's easy prey, then, for ex-Marine and pederast Big John (Brian Cox). Only it's not that black-and-white, and this strange relationship follows a far from clear-cut course. Sure, Howie's first visit to Big John's home is so glaciers-down-the-spine creepy you may be on the edge of your seat ready to leave. But as the tone of sexual menace subsides and Cox starts to seem as much a surrogate parent as a slimy perv, the character shading becomes increasingly subtle.

Of course, a huge amount rests on Cox's shoulders, and he uncorks his best work in years, unleashing the talent he's been saving while slumming it on the likes of Mad About Mambo and Complicity. But the kids, too, are excellent (especially star-in-the-making Kay), and kudos must also go to Cuesta for both his avoidance of knee-jerk morality and his determination to find a fresh angle on the done-to-death suburban angst movie. Shame about the cop-out ending, though.

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