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Lakeview Terrace (2008)

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Overall Rating 62%
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Ranked #1,473
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Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson
Patrick Wilson
Patrick Wilson
Kerry Washington
Kerry Washington
Ron Glass
Ron Glass
Justin Chambers
Justin Chambers
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 24, 2008
Have you ever seen a film so awful, so wretched, so worthless that it made you doubt both the quality of cinema, as a whole, and the talents of the director involved? "The Wicker Man" was that film for me, a disaster of epic proportions and one of the most laughably pathetic motion pictures to come around in recent memory. The sad thing about that is that the film was written and directed by Neil LaBute, one of the finest playwrights of our time and a successful independent director with a crisp and impressive resume. To see such an artist fall victim to the Hollywood machine was nothing short of devastating. I mean - this was the filmmaker who had given us "In the Company of Men", "The Shape of Things" and the fantastic "Nurse Betty". This was the playwright who had riveted audiences with "Fat Pig", "Autobahn" and "Some Girls". Alas, despite his former glory, his film "The Wicker Man" stripped me of my faith and turned me into both a skeptic and a pissed off former fan. Now comes "Lakeview Terrace", another mainstream effort from LaBute with the perpetually angry black man Samuel L. Jackson playing...well...an angry black man. But, there was something about the trailer for this film that made me think it was going to be more than another one of those run-of-the-mill thrillers. It had that old Neil LaBute feel to it - with the social themes and the anger and bitterness bubbling just below the surface of the pristine outer layer. So, I am going to pretend "The Wicker Man" never happened. I am going to pretend LaBute was skipping his anti-psychotics or something. Why? Because "Lakeview Terrace" was one of the strongest films I have seen this year. It's a return to form for LaBute and a damned fine picture.

It's a rare occurrence when the star of a film is also the films villain, but such is the case here. We are immediately introduced to Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson), a Los Angeles police officer who lives in the suburbs, on Lakeview Terrace. His wife is dead and he is raising two young children by himself, controlling their every move as any over-possessive father might. One day, a newly married couple - Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) - move next door, which shouldn't be a problem except for one thing - Chris is white and Lisa is black. Abel is almost immediately uncomfortable with their living next door to he and his kids, and he goes out of his way to make them feel unwelcome. When Abel's kids spy on Chris and Lisa 'getting busy' in their pool next door, things really start to heat up. Most of the film deals with Abel expressing his views on the lifestyle next door and Chris and Lisa going out of their way to fit in. All the while, a large wildfire is inching closer and closer to their scenic suburban worlds. When Abel is out on leave from the police department for an incident involving alleged abuse, his world really start to come unraveled, forcing Abel to take his frustrations out on his new neighbors. And, though I know that plot summation sounds typical and done-to-death, believe me when I tell you - it's not. "Lakeview Terrace" is not quite what you think it's going to be. It's a multi-layered examination.

You have to understand so much of what makes this film tick. As we learn early on, Lakeview Terrace is not far from where Rodney King was beaten, and there are still criminals dropping in the neighborhood all the time, according to Abel, who keeps security lights on at night and is always seeming concerned about the safety of his children. There is a subtle and very vicious undertone throughout the film dealing with racism from both sides. Abel makes no secret that he doesn't approve of a bi-racial relationship and he also seems to display an acute racism towards Caucasians and Hispanics. But, the same is said for his new neighbor, Chris. You can see the expression on his face whenever he confronts Abel, and there is one moment where I literally thought Chris was about to call Abel something that would have really amped things overboard. He did not. But he made us think that he was considering it, and that was enough. Abel is tired of raising his children alone in a world with no boundaries. Chris is tired of being constantly judged for the color of his skin and Abel is just one more black man in his life who disapproves of his marriage. The two would never get along in any setting, with things becoming more and more complicated because of their being neighbors who just don't understand one another. The ending of the film is not nearly as tacked on as it might seem, but the impending wildfires and the quick escalation of violence only goes to demonstrate how out of hand hatred can become, especially when so chaotic.

The first thing I said when I walked out of the theatre was - This is the best thing I have seen Samuel L. Jackson do since "Pulp Fiction". I meant it. Jackson has turned in some quality work since then, but he really does carry this film on so many levels. And, yes - I know - he's playing the angry black man role again. Why not? He does it so well, and he manages to take that and add humor and humility and pain and loss, and so many other emotions. This isn't the Samuel L. Jackson who made us cringe in "Jumper". This is the Samuel L. Jackson that stretched his acting muscles in "187" and "Changing Lanes". We haven't seen him in a while. Patrick Wilson serves as a nice balance with Jackson and turns in a fine performance also. Wilson usually doesn't bring too much to the table other than nice abs, but he really does great here. It's also probably the best thing he's done since "Angels in America". I was probably more impressed with Kerry Washington than Wilson - she really brings some depth and some raw emotion to the role. I believed every single thing she was going through, and I loved the whole side-play between she and Wilson about whether or not to have a child. That added an extra dimension to the overall dynamic. Basically, what I'm suggesting is that Neil LaBute has done one hell of a fantastic job with so many of these emotional layers. He has taken what seemed like an ordinary thriller and turned it into a very absorbing and very revealing drama about race and acceptance and the risks of hate.

The most shocking thing I have noticed is that most critics seem to be disagreeing with my grand assessment of the film. I cannot believe this film has received more negative criticism than positive criticism. Were they watching the same film? Part of me feels like Neil LaBute's reputation has now been forever tarnished by "The Wicker Man" and no critics are ever going to attempt to take him seriously again. If this film had been made on a shoestring budget and starred Don Cheadle, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Viola Davis - they'd be talking Oscars right now. Because LaBute is now going mainstream with his pictures, it seems like it's okay to take unfair shots at him. I personally consider "Lakeview Terrace" to be his third best film, right behind "Nurse Betty" and "In the Company of Men". It made a definite impact on me. And, at the very least, go for the brilliant writing, the sterling performance from Samuel L. Jackson, and one of the most intriguing, edge-of-your-seat ride of the year. Whenever Jackson is on screen, there is this impending sense of doom and dread. You keep waiting for something to happen. Not many actors can command that kind of precognition. "Lakeview Terrace" is easily one of the best films of the year.

9/10.
Tristan #1: Tristan - added 01/05/2009, 01:42 AM
I was actually quite surprised by this one. I expected it to be really awful, but it was decent at times. A little long and drawn out, but watchable.

6.5/10
Chad #2: Chad - added 03/09/2009, 06:04 AM
I thought it was even better than just "watchable" - really enjoyed this one. 9/10 sounds about right, agreed.
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