Complex characters bring out truth in `L.I.E.'

Movie reviews

October 12, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Rated NC-17 (sex, nudity). Sun score: *** 1/2

Writer-director Michael Cuesta's L.I.E. (short for Long Island Expressway) bravely tackles adolescence, sexuality and perversity by treating them as they really are: conditions of unfathomable complexity that defy categorization but are ignored (or oversimplified) at mankind's peril.

Howie Blitzer (Paul Franklin Dano) is a teen-age loner, though not by choice: His mother is dead, his father's a swindler, his friends a directionless bunch burglarizing homes in Long Island. The saddest part is that Howie desperately is searching for a positive role model.

Big John Harrigan (British actor Brian Cox) hardly fits that bill. He's a pedophile who discards the young boys he takes in as soon as they reach the cusp of manhood. But he's also the rare adult who tries to connect with Howie.

And Howie has a surprising effect on Big John, who perhaps for the first time seems intent on nurturing a boy, not exploiting him.

As played by Cox, Big John certainly is a predator; the callous way he moves from one boy to the next is truly chilling. But he's not soulless; he alone sees Howie for the confused kid he is. Big John is a flawed human being whose depravities are real, but not the sum total of his being. That characterization alone makes L.I.E. one of the year's most unsettling - and perhaps most illuminating - films.

`Greenfingers'

Rated R (language, sex). Sun score: **

The latest in a line of quirky, feel-good British comedies, Greenfingers fits right into the breezily entertaining mold but doesn't expand it.

Based on actual events, it's the story of prisoners in a liberal-minded British jail that is light on incarceration and heavy on rehabilitation. Led by sullen Colin Briggs (Clive Owen), five inmates start a flower garden. Surprisingly, they turn out to be good at it, making it to the prestigious Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

Greenfingers is filled with stock characters: the older, slightly daft father figure, the lovable oaf, the scamp, the father trying to win back his son. All the actors, including Helen Mirren as a garden-club Martha Stewart, do fine work, resulting in an uplifting and enjoyable, if formulaic, piffle.

`Diamond Men'

Unrated (language, sex, nudity). Sun score: ***

Eddie Miller is among the last of a breed, a traveling salesman working the small towns of central Pennsylvania who gets to know and care about his customers.

Only, that doesn't impress Eddie's New York supplier. What the suits know is that Eddie suffered a heart attack recently, which makes him uninsurable and, thus, unemployable. Besides, they're grooming a young kid, Bobby Walker, to take over; he scored real high on all the standardized tests. Of course, what this kid doesn't know could fill the Titanic.

Eddie's so desperate to keep his job, he agrees to take this kid under his wing. But what's he to do about Bobby, whose idea of paying back a good turn is taking his benefactor to the local brothel?

Diamond Men tells Eddie's story with considerable heart and gentle good humor, and Robert Forster makes him a pillar of moral strength and dignity.

Writer-director Daniel M. Cohen doesn't do as well by Bobby, who in Donnie Wahlberg's hands is more caricature than character. As a prostitute who proves a match for Eddie in maturity and wisdom, Bess Armstrong begins with off-putting haughtiness but grows into the role.

But this is Forster's show, and he doesn't disappoint.

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