Dir Michael Cuesta. US2001. 97minutes

One of the most powerful films to hit movie screens this year, L.I.E. (short for Long Island Expressway) is sure to generate controversy and spark heated debate wherever it plays. Slapped with an NC-17 rating, it is a coming-of-age drama about a troubled 15-year old boy who, let down or abandoned by everybody in his life, is befriended by a paedophile. Brian Cox walks a razor's edge in his portrayal of the paedophile, a man torn between his perverse nature and an instinctive, if rarely exercised, sense of moral decency. A tough sell due to its subject matter - and it's rating - L.I.E. should nonetheless do well on the art-house circuit, thanks to strong reviews and favourable word-of-mouth.

A highlight of the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, L.I.E. marks the feature Debut of commercials director Michael Cuesta, who also co-wrote the script. The film's title is a play on words, as the story is very much about the Lies people tell and the secret lives which they lead. Fifteen-year old Howie Blitzer (a remarkable performance from Dano) lives with his father, following his mother's death in a car accident several years before. Sensitive, shy and just on the cusp of adolescence, Howie gets mixed up with a group of larcenous school mates, whose leader is his best friend Gary (Kay, as cocky and charismatic as a young James Cagney).

Through Gary, Howie inadvertently meets Big John (Cox), a jovial former Marine who is leading a dangerous double life. Through Big John, Howie learns that Gary has his own dark secrets. When Gary quits town and Howie's father gets Into trouble with the law, the distraught teenager has nowhere to turn except to Big John.

The film is as much about Big John's conflict as it is about Howie's mental and emotional growth. The Scottish born Cox gives a sensational performance as the predator who is also a protector. Always an insightful actor, he here manages what would seem to be an impossible task: evoking sympathy for a character while never allowing the audience to forget the threat he poses. Dano is every bit as believable as the troubled youth who, still coping with his mother's death, finds all of his other support systems failing him at the same time.

Director Cuesta also had a fine line to walk: how to present an emotionally-charged subject and a psychologically-complex story in a sensitive, completely non-exploitative way. He has done a masterful job: There is nothing prurient nor graphic in the picture. The only sexual activity on screen, a mere eight seconds worth, is between a grown man and his adult girlfriend. No sexual activity between an adult and child is ever depicted; the only suggestion of any is an unsuccessful verbal seduction. That L.I.E. should have received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, instead of the R it deserves, is an outrage, especially when films such as The Cell and The General's Daughter walk away with an R.

Pro co: Alter Ego/Belladonna
US dist: Lot 47 Films
Prods: Rene Bastian, Linda Moran, Michael Cuesta
Scr: Stephen M. Ryder, Michael Cuesta, GeraldCuesta
Cinematographer: Romeo Tirone
Pro des: Elise Bennett
Eds: Eric Carlson, Kane Platt
Music: Pierre Foldes
Main cast: BrianCox, Paul Franklin Dano, Billy Kay