Lakeview Terrace (Overbrook Ent,, PG-13)

film_lakeview_am.jpgSamuel Jackson dominates Lakeview Terrace, leaving the other characters in his shadow.





Lakeview Terrace, the latest film from director Neil Labute, starts out seeming to be one kind of film but gradually turns into something quite else. If you judge this film too quickly or superficially, you miss out on the subtle way it undermines its apparent theme and leads to a conclusion far different from what you were initially set up to expect.

Labute’s reputation rests in large part on his penchant for provocation and his facility in inverting clichés, and both are on full display in Lakeview Terrace. The central character is Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) a widower raising two kids (charmingly played by Regine Nehy and Jaishon Fisher) in a multi-culti suburban cul-de-sac high in the hills above L.A., where starter homes have three-car garages and swimming pools. He drives a shiny new stretch pickup and understands the special privileges granted to a 28-year veteran of the LAPD.

But Abel is seething with anger and feels the need to dominate every encounter, even casual social exchanges. He’s also an unapologetic bigot. When a young interracial couple (Chris and Lisa Mattson, played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) moves next door, Abel makes it his special mission to both drive them out of the neighborhood and break up their marriage. And he doesn’t hesitate to abuse the special trust and powers afforded him as a policeman in pursuit of these goals.

Like many bigots and bullies, Abel is an expert at justifying his behavior, and I suspect some people will cheer for him as others applauded Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker. The genius of Lakeview Terrace is that Labute gradually allows us to see the separation between Abel’s self-image and the reality of his life, and that Jackson is able to show the increasing desperation of his character as his carefully-fabricated facade begins to crumble.

Jackson dominates Lakeview Terrace, leaving the other characters in his shadow. It frequently feels like screenwriters David Loughery and Howard Korder expended so much time and energy developing the role of Abel that they had nothing left for anyone else. Patrick Wilson’s character in particular is badly served: Chris is set up in opposition to Jackson but it’s hardly a fair fight, since he barely has a personality and the writers failed to grant him the kind of back story detail normally supplied for a major role. Most unfortunately, Chris is frequently asked to advance the plot at all costs and against all logic, leaving us with the impression that he has failed to learn most elementary laws of either life or the movies, such as:

  1. Ttrying to get tough with a cop, let alone a house full of cops, is not a strategy destined for success
  2. When you discover damaging information about someone who is both ruthless and armed, your next move should not be to let him know that you know

When Chris finally does wise up, it’s totally out of character in relation to his previous behavior, and not at all believable as organic development of character.

Race is exploited rather than explored in Lakeview Terrace, and some of the characters are obvious plot coupons: a casual white racist at a party, a black wife beater, Jackson’s Hispanic partner and Asian real estate agent. But such infelicities are forgivable because Labute’s real interest is in examining the psychology of one damaged individual, and Samuel L. Jackson carries the film with a virtuoso performance in that role. | Sarah Boslaugh

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