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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 14:54 GMT
Newsnight Review discussed Michael Cuesta's film L.I.E.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

I don't think it's purely a film about paedophilia. In fact, it's about all kinds of forms of human desire. It's really got at its centre Howie, played by Paul Dano, this broken child. You see him in this world where his dad is vain and self-obsessed, has stopped paying any attention to him. He is hanging out with this feral group of boys. There is a lot of testosterone around, everything is cruel and barbaric. You think a lot of harm is going to come to this child. This orphaned boy, he is like Oliver in Oliver Twist. His friend Gary is like the Artful Dodger. Very cynical, very knowing. You know big harm is going to come to him, and then he meets Big John. Why it confounds our expectations is, in a way, you know this man is using warmth and wit. He is a very attractive character. You know he is using those devices to make Howie trust him. But the film does to us what Big John does to Howie. It makes us feel the warmth and power of this man. There is a scene where Howie is left in a prison waiting room, and all the other boys, their parents come to pick them up, and Big John comes to collect Howie. We feel relief that this guy, someone, has finally come to fill the void for this boy's mother. Brian Cox gives a tremendous performance. It's extremely challenging. It has this absurd rating, but it's fantastic. It's one of the best American films of the year by far.

It's an 18, whereas for a lot of people this would be a great film to let young teenagers see. Adam, is this all driven by these two characters?

Not enough, to my mind. It is trying to be morally disorienting, but it's also somewhat confused I its own right. There are bits that come from black comedy. People keeling over dead in fast food restaurants, and a bizarre moment where just as Big John is working his charms, the phone rings. It's picked up, and it's his mother saying, "Why aren't you at the doctor picking up your haemorrhoid cream?" That has to be a laugh line. But also, it bothered me a bit that everything was twisted and turned upside down, everything was slanted one way or another. I felt things were slightly artificially towards making him innocent, in terms that the sexual act to which he aspires is one, to put it discreetly, that if the young man closed his eyes, he might not notice the difference. There is no question of bodily invasion, which is the great terror with paedophilia. To some extent, the fact that everybody else was so irresponsible made this larger-than-life character comic. It should be funny, because the Daily Mail feels that paedophiles should be known to the authorities. This one is. He is there at the school, at the police station. It should be black comedy, in a way.

You think that the character of Howie is quite knowing, but what I think the film does very well is portrays a kind of atmosphere in which children are in a lot more danger than they actually think they are.

Where the film itself is a little bit cowardly is, it seems to me, the time that Howie spends under Big John's roof has to be the heart of the film.

It's very brief.

Far too brief, because this is when Big John really is in loco parentis. I felt that needed almost to be the film, rather than less than ten minutes in it.

I suppose they did shy away from that a bit. The actual threat receded, and he decided to become very paternalistic. The car is like a kind of character in its own right, it seemed to me like a maligned version of that car that used to be in Starsky and Hutch. Did you not think the boys were wonderful?

Wonderfully good. But the odd thing is an awful lot of work has gone into bits of screenplay that aren't particularly interesting. A lot of plotting about the father and court cases. Too much work on the outside, and not quite enough in the central relationship.

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