A young couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) has just moved into their California dream home when they become the target of their next-door neighbor, who disapproves of their interracial relationship. A stern, single father, this tightly wound LAPD officer (Samuel L. Jackson) has appointed himself the watchdog of the neighborhood. His nightly foot patrols and overly watchful eyes bring comfort to some, but he becomes increasingly harassing to the newlyweds. These persistent intrusions into their lives ultimately turn tragic when the couple decides to fight back.
“Lakeview Terrace” plays like a dumber version of “Crash”. Just as the earlier Academy-Award Best Picture winner, race is the provocative issue that runs through this movie. But I say dumber- because “Lakeview Terrace” examines the issue with all the subtlety that a jackhammer has.
And certainly, one had best be prepared that this is no movie you’d feel comfortable watching. Just because America recently elected its first African American president recently to office doesn’t mean that the wounds of racial division have healed. Indeed, the disease of discrimination has simply mutated or evolved into a different form.
Samuel L. Jackson plays black cop Abel Turner who has a grudge against his new next-door neighbours, Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington). You see in Abel Turner’s eyes the indignation when he spies the interracial (Chris is white, Lisa is black) couple holding hands, kissing, and even making out in their own pool. And apparently it’s just them- he gets on perfectly fine with the Chinese dude living in the same upscale neighbourhood in Los Angeles.
The motivation must be something more personal and truly, as one finds out later, it is. But this is also where the movie actually loses its edge. I won’t spoil the surprise for you (though you’d probably guess it coming too) but suffice to say that the motivation doesn’t seem credible enough to me for a respected cop in his community to go berserk and even break into his neighbour’s house to sabotage their place.
Surely although the movie carefully portrays the tussle not between two man’s egos, but rather a consequence of the incendiary nature of racial tensions, the purpose for Abel Turner’s sharply polarized views is unfortunately not good enough justification to convince viewers of his intent. And once you figure that out, then this supposedly thought-provoking thriller then becomes no more than an exploitation flick.
It exploits what definitely remains a hot divisive issue for what is supposed to be a stimulating perspective on race but that turns out so much less. Still, that’s not to say that this isn’t a compelling watch. Probably no one can play the snarling black man more efficiently than Samuel L. Jackson and here, just his widened eyes and pursed lips will be enough to advise you against messing with him. Yes, menacing he certainly is.
Director Neil LaBute also keeps the tension building in the movie- indeed, your increasing discomfort is a sure sign that he has succeeded in keeping you at the edge of your seat. Nevertheless, the script by David Loughery and Howard Korder is a letdown in the way it lazily manipulates the provocative race card without much hint of nuance.
So the best way to appreciate this movie is really to take it as an entertaining thriller and nothing more. If you’re expecting this to be some intellectual discussion on blacks and whites in America, you’d be better off looking somewhere else. And by the way, “Lakeview Terrace” actually makes “Crash” inadvertently more deserving of the Best Picture win that some howled in disagreement with 4 years back.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
Director Neil LaBute and actress Kerry Washington do a Commentary on the film that turns out less insightful than reserved. What is slightly more interesting is the Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Neil LaBute that explains why the scenes were filmed but subsequently dropped. Finally, there are also 3 Behind the Scenes Featurettes: An Open House talks about the racial theme that runs throughout the story; Meet Your Neighbours tells you the casting process before the shoot of the movie; and Home Sweet Home looks at the production on the set itself.
Nice visual transfer that makes the Lakeview Terrace suburban neighbourhood look very much appealing. Except for the sound of some whirling helicopters, the Dolby 5.1 track audio is quite unexceptional.
by Gabriel Chong