Monday, March 09, 2009

Film Review: 'Lakeview Terrace' – 8.0/10

Film Review: Thriller • Drama (2008)
'Lakeview Terrace'
Written by Joé McKen on Monday, March 09, 2009

LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is a cop with a mysterious and dark side in Neil Labrute’s 2008 thriller Lakeview Terrace.

The kind of neighbors you’re stuck with when you move into a new suburban home can really make your life Heaven or Hell. Especially when that next-door neighbor has two formidable assets on his side: being a hardened cop, and a racist Black guy.

This is the problem faced by new homeowners Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington, respectively) when they move into their new luxurious suburban house on Lakeview Terrace. They are a recently-wed couple and are very much in love, but their relationship will soon be put to the test when their next-door neighbor, LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson), shows his colors (no pun intended) as a bitter racist against the new neighbors – Chris is White while Lisa is Black.

First starting with subtle tricks and deceptions, the threats and fighting quickly escalates between the two forces as officer Turner sends his message loud and clear: You’re Not Welcome. However, as any couple with half a spinal column would undoubtedly do, they decide to brave the man and his inexplicable anger and grudge towards them and stay in their beautiful new house. They also plan to start a family (though, as in reality, the girl always wants it much more than the guy does; and, also as in reality, she’s ready to do what it takes to get it despite his wishes), though they agreed to wait a little until they’re settled in, something officer Turner is set on preventing, no matter how far he has to go to do so.

Neil Labrute is a storycrafting genius, as is evident in Lakeview Terrace. He’s realized any other racism-themed movie with a bitter White prick tormenting a Black victim (or victims) would not only be mundane and boring, but also probably unpopular with the current cultural mood du jour. So, how to keep the same basic story yet make it original, and most importantly, acceptable to the common public? Labrute’s ingenious solution is a deceptively simple one: simply reverse the races of the characters. Make the racist Black and the victims White. While perhaps not revolutionary, it’s certainly an inspired bit of deception.

Of course, any racism-themed movie will understandably and predictably have some groups praising it and others throwing Molotov Cocktails at the screen, so Director Labrute had to tread very, very carefully in that particular area. More than one movie have been ruined by poor decisions and lack of foresight into the audience’s inevitable reaction(s) towards how the racism is presented and dealt with. Labrute somehow manages to pull off a film in which racism is very omnipresent and obvious, yet it’s dealt in a realistic and sensitive manner that will inflame many less than if it had been a little more heavy-handed. The movie has its share of leering, smirks and dodgy comments from officer Turner, but the racism is neither clearly supported nor rebuked: it’s seemingly neutral, with officer Turner not being cast as the devil, nor the Mattsons being made out to be poor helpless victims. In the end, whether his actions should be condoned for the reasons he (eventually) gives or condemned are left up to the viewer, which in my personal opinion is both a very brave choice, and really, the only ‘right’ choice. One doesn’t like it when a movie tries to pass along morals that don’t match with the ones you have.

Technically, the film is a wonderfully-made craft. There are few to no special effects (what? An American movie without explosions? Seriously? ;)), save for the previously-mentioned wildfires that are rapidly growing out-of-control and will soon reach Lakeview Terrace, perhaps forcing the two sides to bury the hatchet, if only temporarily. We’ll see. Music-wise, I’m unable to find out who the original score’s composer is, but it’s certainly a talented and instinctual musician; the music never really draws attention to itself, but stays low and ominous throughout, underlying the scenes and their thematic moods rather than highlighting them, which is a very good move for a thriller like this. Much of the camera angles are viewed through the characters’ viewpoints from afar, which successfully conveys even more tension to the audience as the characters wonder ‘what is he up to this time?’.

Some people will love it. Some people will hate it. Some will have mixed feelings, and some even may have no particular feelings. Whichever is the case, none can deny it’s a fabulously-made suspense thriller, and although some of it was a tad formulaic, it does hold some good twists and turns that few will see coming.

For bringing us a thriller that scares us, outrages us and makes us think, I award Lakeview Terrace 8.0 cigarette butts out of 10.

LAPD officer Abel Turner: Samuel L. Jackson • Chris Mattson: Patrick Wilson • Lisa Mattson: Kerry Washington
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Neil Labrute • Writer(s): David Loughery, Howard Korder
General Information
Distributed by: Screen Gems (US) • Released: September 19, 2008 • Budget: US$20 million • Rated: PG-13


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