What could be safer than living next to Judge Daniel MacDonald?
Our review of Lakeview Terrace, published January 27th, 2009, is also available.
What could be safer than living next to a cop?
Samuel L. Jackson playing a bad motherf-ing neighbor.
Facts of the Case
Newlyweds Chris (Patrick Wilson, Little Children) and Lisa (Kerry Washington, The Last King of Scotland), move into their starter home, a gorgeous, sprawling abode in a high-end Los Angeles neighborhood. He's white, she's black, and their next-door neighbor Abel (Samuel L. Jackson, Snakes on a Plane) doesn't approve. A single father and longtime veteran of the LAPD, Abel acts as the guardian of his cul-de-sac, and enforces a strict, unbending moral code that he expects his kids—and his neighbors—to respect.
After witnessing them christening their new pool, Abel makes it clear to Chris and Lisa that he doesn't approve of their lifestyle and suggests they might be happier somewhere else; they have no intention of following that suggestion. Tensions mount, relationships are put to the test, and the situation threatens to spiral dangerously out of control.
With Lakeview Terrace, director Neil LaBute (Your Friends and Neighbors) has crafted a nuanced, insightful examination of race relations, class issues, masculinity, and power under the guise of a thriller, both subverting and exceeding our expectations. It uses the traditional conventions of the genre in unexpected ways, yet doesn't stray so far as to leave the audience cold.
Lakeview Terrace is layered with references to Rodney King (Lakeview Terrace is not actually where the characters live, but is where King was pulled over in 1991) and mid-nineties rap, referencing a time when racial tensions in L.A. were especially high. Out-of-control wildfires blazing through California subtly become part of the story, eventually setting the backdrop for the climactic showdown, representing the rising temperature of the situation and putting an additional external stress on the characters.
Most importantly, though, it's entertaining. Sam Jackson brings his own particular brand of creepy to the table, ensuring we don't miss the veiled threats hidden by seemingly innocuous demeanor, while Patrick Wilson betrays his increasing aggravation on his face as he struggles to maintain a calm appearance. While we know a final, probably fatal (for somebody) confrontation is on its way, the added attention to character development makes things a little less predictable and a little more satisfying when it's all said and done. This is the best kind of genre moviemaking.
It would be easy to paint Abel as villainous, the irredeemable villain-next-door scheming ways to terrorize his victims for no reason save personal amusement. However, LaBute doesn't let us off that easy: while often ruthless, Abel is also complex and sympathetic, not asking for understanding but attracting it anyway. Samuel L. Jackson is perfectly cast, handily moving from charm to untempered male aggression at the drop of a hat.
Similarly, Chris and Lisa are hardly innocent victims or a flawless couple. Despite his straight-laced appearance, Chris surreptitiously sneaks organic cigarettes in his driveway, thoughtlessly tossing the butts into Abel's manicured garden while blaring old-school hip hop in his Prius. He transfers his frustration with Lisa's disapproving father onto Abel, clouding his judgment and making a bad situation worse. Lisa does little to diffuse Chris' ego-driven revenge schemes: as opposed to the voice of reason, she seems to like her man getting in touch with his inner tough guy, despite it driving them closer to the point of no return.
Continuing the theme of heat is the colour palette in the cinematography of Rogier Stoffers (Disturbia) and the production design of Bruton Jones (Underworld), with lots of reds and oranges, and very little blue. This is one of LaBute's most visually interesting films, and is beautifully captured on Blu-ray. Shadow areas are deep and detailed, grain is very fine and unobtrusive, and the warm colors pop from the television with a three-dimensional quality. This is a high-impact, film-like transfer that greatly enhances the experience of the picture.
The sound design in Lakeview Terrace is surprisingly full, with the surround channels frequently engaged by the hum of Abel's security lights and unseen helicopters fighting the fires. The LFE channel comes across strong and punchy with music cues, Abel's large truck, and the occasional bit of gunfire, and dialogue is natural and well-balanced.
Special features are a mixed bag. Three 5-7 minute featurettes explore story, casting, and production, but they rarely venture beyond mutual admiration and discussions about how relaxed the set was. The 13 minutes of deleted scenes, available with commentary by LaBute, are more insightful, expanding the characters of Lisa and Chris a bit. Finally, LaBute and Kerry Washington give a friendly feature-length commentary, often discussing character motivations, the reasons behind particular choices, and the preparation that went into individual scenes. It's worth a listen for fans and is the best supplement on the disc.
Lakeview Terrace succeeds at being a solid, intense genre piece, developing that tension directly from the characters much more than your average guilty pleasure.
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