Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson,
Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Jay Hernandez
Director: Neil LaBute
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: January 27, 2009
“You keep saying stuff like that. Like we’re not welcome here, we should move. But we’re fitting in just fine.”
At first glance, I thought Lakeview Terrace was going to be nothing more than a retread of the 1992 thriller Unlawful Entry. In that movie, a suburban couple played by Kurt Russell and Madeline Stowe found themselves being terrorized by a deeply disturbed cop, played by Ray Liotta. You could say that this film has the same scenario, but there is way more going on under the surface.
Add in the ingredients Neil LaBute and racial tensions, and you should get an idea of what you’re for. After all, anyone familiar with LaBute’s work knows that he loves to push buttons. Still, the movie manages to be surprising in the way it gets under your skin.
The uncomfortable tone of the movie is very much established at the beginning when we are introduced to Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson). He raises his two children with a strict set of rules, so much to the point that he forbids his son to wear a Kobe Bryant jersey. We actually spend a good bit of time getting to know Abel in the opening, which is why it’s kind of interesting since he is basically the antagonist of the movie.
Abel is a veteran cop who also happens to be a racist, which is never hinted at until he takes notice of the newlyweds who have just moved in next door. Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) are an interracial couple, and the moment Abel sees this we can tell he’s disappointed. What can’t be foreseen is the lengths he’ll go to let them know he doesn’t want them in the neighborhood, simply because he has a problem with the notion of a white man married to a black woman.
Chris gets to know Abel through a number of run-ins, and finds him to be friendly yet slightly off putting. He is subtle in both his racism and how he taunts Chris and Lisa. Once Abel takes things too far, Chris tells him to stay out of their lives. But with Abel being a cop, what exactly can Chris do?
The film doesn’t just deal with Chris’ ever-increasing problem with the cop next door, but also with the pressure he faces within his marriage. Lisa comes from a wealthy family, and her father is clearly not Chris’ biggest fan. He keeps asking him if he’s going to have kids with her, and in a way that suggests he already doesn’t approve of it.
As both a thriller and a piece of social commentary, Lakeview Terrace is indeed a scorcher. Although LaBute didn’t write the script, the film definitely plays out like one of his written works. Issues are thrown in characters faces and confronted in a manner that instantly reminded me of the many uncomfortable conversations in LaBute’s In the Company of Men.
The only sore spot in the film is a very forced ending. After all the thought-provoking qualities the movie has brought to our attention, the last 15 minutes are executed in such a manner that it would’ve been fitting for a scroll at the bottom of the screen reading, “WE HAVE TO FINISH UP MOVIE NOW”. It’s a conventional thriller ending where characters end up doing things that seem completely out of place.
Luckily enough, everything else about the movie is stellar enough to warrant a strong recommendation, in particular an incendiary performance by Samuel L. Jackson, who hasn’t been this menacing since his turn as Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown. He doesn’t take the one dimensional route with the character, making Abel even more of an authentic type of sociopath once we learn what led to his racist ways. Since Jackson is intimidating in almost any kind of character, the result here is almost too intense to handle.
Patrick Wilson, soon to be seen as Nite Owl II in Watchmen, continues his streak of most impressive work with a thoroughly believable performance as the put upon Chris. Wilson brings an everyman sort of quality to the role, and everything he says when approached by Jackson rings absolutely true. And as Chris’ wife, the incredibly beautiful Kerry Washington shines and very much holds her own in her intense moments with Jackson, although all she’d ever have to do is stand around looking gorgeous and I’d be very happy.
Though marketed as a thriller, Lakeview Terrace is best suited for viewers ready to take in some uncomfortable subject matter. It reminds us that although we live in a time where we want nothing more than change and for everyone to get along, racism still exists among us and within the most unexpected of people. In other words, it’s the side of the world Neil LaBute is never afraid to have us confront.
This Sony release comes complete with an incredibly solid looking presentation. The anamorphic picture is consistently alive and rendered with glorious detail. Colors are particularly strong, as the tones seem to go heavy on yellow and orange to reflect the heat of the Southern California setting (and possibly the heat building between the characters). Sharp and most effective from beginning to end!
The 5.1 mix services this intense thriller very well. Dialogue delivery is indeed as strong as it can be, and even the simplest of sound effects seem to get remarkable treatment (like the switching on of the security lights on Abel’s house). Music playback is unquestionably strong and effective, and the moments of suspense are captured terrifically.
Included is a neat commentary with director Neil Labute and co-star Kerry Washington, as well as a number of Deleted Scenes with optional commentary, the featurette compilation titled “Welcome to Lakeview Terrace” which is made up of three individual featurettes; “An Open House”, “Meet Your Neighbors” and “Home Sweet Home”. Lastly included is a Trailer gallery for additional Sony releases.
Lakeview Terrace pulls no punches in its examination of contemporary prejudice. The forces of Neil LaBute and Samuel L. Jackson help to make a memorable exercise in pure escalating tension. Watch with caution, as this goes well beyond the thriller you might be expecting.