As I watched Lakeview Terrace, I could not help but be reminded of a David Koepp film from 1996 called The Trigger Effect. No, the plots are not anywhere near being the same, but it came to mind nonetheless. Why did I think of this movie? Simple, they move forward through their story in very similar fashions. Neither film has a locked in conclusion, both move forward in a believable fashion. I get the impression that neither film was completely planned out. Rather than outline the story arc, defining just where the characters begin and end, the respective writers took their inspirations and allowed them to guide their hand through the landmines of these people's lives until the conclusion revealed itself to them. I could be completely wrong about the approach, but the way the film plays out is a lot less plotted and a lot more reactionary. The end result, in both cases, is an interesting film that satisfies while not being terribly memorable.
Now, with the reactionary nature of the screenplay in your mind, add in the race relations aspect of a movie like Crash and you get closer to what Lakeview Terrace is. We just need one more ingredient; that would be a close, intimate feel. This is not an epic film, there is no big picture that needs you to step back to fit into the frame. It does not have all of the interlocking threads of Crash to weave together. No, this film is small in scope, intimate in nature, and thought-provoking in intent.
Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) move into a nice home in southern California, ready to begin their young marriage. Next door is LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson). Almost immediately the relationship between the neighbors becomes prickly. There are neighborly-type issues like security lights shining into the Mattson's bedroom, cigarette butts flicked into the grass, and adult scenes in full view of children; nothing that seems to be so major as to prevent a compromise between the two parties. However, there is more to it than these relatively minor issues.
Each conversation that Chris and Abel have includes subtle hints at Abel's disdain for Chris' interracial relationship. Now Abel does not come right out and say it, but he does not exactly hide his distaste. This relationship breeds contempt, leading to fear, before moving onto anger. Chris and Lisa have little recourse, as calling the police is out of the question, considering Turner's profession. Chris does his best to deal with the issue, but Abel's larger than life personality and intimidating presence is more than enough to keep Chris at bay.
Their conflict rises through the first two acts before coming to an explosive, and slightly derivative climax. While it is an easy tale to follow, it offers some interesting depth, particularly in the Abel Turner character. Yes, he is surly and generally unlikable, but he is portrayed early on as a God-fearing man who has high expectations of his children with his strict rules and an insistence on speaking properly. Later on we learn more about the character and how he has come to b the way he is. It is an interesting development and succeeds in adding more subtext to the bigger story.
The film was directed by Neil Labute, who does a good job at keeping the film going, surging forward through escalating tension. His last film was the remake of Wicker Man, which was interesting in its ability to marry subtext with unintentional hilarity. Here he avoids the laughable traps he fell into there while delivering a story that just digs right into the incendiary issue of racism.
The best thing about the film is easily Samuel L. Jackson. The man is an absolute force of nature. He commands your attention, and you will listen to everything he has to say. So,if nothing else, you always have the inimitable Jackson to entertain you.
Bottomline. Yes, this is a good film. It is not pure plot, it has that reactionary feel to propel it towards its conclusion. While it does become rather generic in its conclusion, its power is not diminished. This is well worth spending some time with.