The race-baiting thriller Lakeview Terrace is exactly what you would expect from a screenplay by a Hollywood hack and an established playwright: some sharp dialogue grafted onto a credibility-stretching and familiar plot. Adding to the weirdness: the screenplay by David Loughery (whose best credit is Disney’s The Three Musketeers) and Howard Korder (the playwright of Boy’s Life) is directed by Neil LaBute, also a respected playwright. An excellent cast assists in making the picture better than it should be, but the story would have been yet better served by an independent-minded drama rather than a run-of-the-mill scary-neighbor thriller.
Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington as Chris and Lisa Mattson, an interracial couple who move next to Samuel L. Jackson's conservative cop Abel Turner. A widower who's served twenty-eight years on the force, Turner has been on the beat too long. He's had his fill of scum, and he's all too eager to ascribe what he sees on the streets to sliding moral values. His biggest pet peeve—relationships between blacks and whites—gets in his face once too often. "It's a brave new world," he cracks, though he has tolerated the African-American wife of his Hispanic partner (Jay Hernandez). When the Mattsons arrive next door and, at least from Abel's uptight perspective, flaunt their happiness, he retaliates with passive aggression (unsolicited advice with a threatening edge, bright security lights that shine into the couple's bedroom) that escalates into the macho brinksmanship of a classic battle of wills. The thriller has an efficient engine in that the Mattsons can't rely on police protection (another officer tells them, "You guys are lucky. You have a cop living next door") and a parallel looming threat in the ever-closer wildfires that threaten to consume their California dream home.
The film is unmistakeably inspired by the headline-grabbing case of LAPD Officer Irsie Henry, a harrasser who initiated a long-running dispute with his neighbors, an interracial couple. But the sadly unhinged Henry was clearly cracked (at least eventually), whereas Jackson's Turner almost always keeps it cool, right to the end, despite his escalating threats. In a misguided attempt to make Abel's actions understandable, the filmmakers conspire with Jackson's actorly instinct to make Turner as motivated as he is monstrous: a widowed father of two, he's a man living with daily hurt and a pressure to do right by his kids (even though he snaps and hits his fifteen-year-old daughter)—father is sure he knows best and desperate to keep his kids on his cultural straight and narrow. (In the film's emotional climax, Abel recounts another key underpinning for his racist view—it's one reason too many.) On the other hand, some of his ostensibly good actions (a nightly neighborhood watch, for example) belie hidden intentions (an excuse for personal prying) to his end of a warped greater good. Despite the film's failure to make Abel believable, Jackson gives a superbly effective performance, beat for beat.
The script more fruitfully explores the tensions within Chris and Lisa's marriage. Though they don't deserve their plight, both are flawed characters who show, in moments of weakness, careless disregard for others, including each other. Within their own household, they cannot escape tangles of racism. Chris can barely stand the swallowed displeasure of Lisa's father (Ron Glass of Serenity), and Lisa allows her knowledge of African-American culture to emerge as prejudice. When she has yet to speak to Abel and though Chris has spoken to him more than once, she implies a greater knowledge of their neighbor, because both she and Abel are black. Chris's bitter response—"You're right. I don't know him. I guess I never will"—carries a subtext with brutal implications for his marriage. In another subplot, Lisa also betrays her husband with a decision involving the future of their marriage.
If the actors pick up on the script's subtle dramatic beats, LaBute ultimately proves more interested more in provocation and thriller mechanics. Lakeview Terrace is the name of the neighborhood where Rodney King was attacked. The script puts King's signature line, half-jokingly, into Chris' mouth. It's a key line for LaBute, who says, "At the heart of it is really that simple Rodney King 'Can't we all get along?', and I think the movie ultimately says, 'Barely.'" A serious examination of this topic might have been worthwhile, but as the engine of a thriller, it's a non-starter. LaBute may think he’s being progressive by making a picture about an African-American man’s racism, but this misbegotten suspense picture isn’t very believable on its way to the overwrought theatrics of its climax, and it adds little more than cynicism to our national discussion on race. Released to home video one week to the day of Barack Obama's inauguration, Lakeview Terrace therefore shows exceptionally bad timing.
Sony's special edition of Lakeview Terrace makes for a top-notch Blu-ray, mirrored on DVD. The image is unimpeachable, looking as the film did in theaters. The image is solid in all areas: plenty detailed, clean in source and accurate in color. Depth varies—darker scenes and those with the digital effects of the fire flatten out a bit, but all around this is a very impressive picture. Sound is a very effective Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that ably recreates the theatrical effects.
Primarily, the disc features a commentary with director Neil LaBute and Kerry Washington. It's a decent track showing LaBute and his effervescent star to be easygoing and friendly with each other as they discuss the nuts and bolts of making the film; I only wish they were a bit more eager to explore the film's darker themes.
Eight "Deleted Scenes" (13:49 with "Play All" option, SD) come with optional commentary by LaBute. Two of the scenes offer an interesting comparison: one's the PG-13 version of "Abel and Lisa Knife Confrontation," and another's the R-rated version.
Three "Welcome to Lakeview Terrace: Behind the Scenes" Featurettes (19:31 with "Play All" option, HD) go behind the story, characters and themes ("An Open House"), work through the cast ("Meet Your Neighbors"), and address the physical production in LaBute's tone on the set, stunts, and design ("Home Sweet Home"). Participants include LaBute, Patrick Wilson, Samuel L. Jackson, Washington, writer David Loughery, Jay Hernandez, stunt coordinator Ben Bray, transportation captain Jeremy Morgan, and production designer Bruton Jones.
Lastly, Sony provides the BD-Live hookup for additional online content.
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