It’s always a good thing when a film keeps you compelled throughout. Flaws here and there can be forgiven if it keeps you interested and glued to the screen. That’s most definitely the case for Lakeview Terrace, an exciting, tense, and gripping thriller only let down by a forced and generic ending.
Lakeview Terrace tells the story of an interracial couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) who move into their new house to settle down. The only problem is their next door neighbour, Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson), doesn’t like the fact that his new neighbours are not “of the same colour”. But what starts out as a simple case of one neighbour not liking the other soon turns into a lot more. After Abel sees the couple having sex in their pool, which his kids can easily see, he starts to harass the them in an effort to make them leave. As things get more and more out of hand the couple don’t know what to do about it; calling the cops is certainly out of the question as Abel is a veteran of the LAPD.
For 90% of its runtime, Lakeview Terrace is more interesting a motion picture than most released this year. No, it certainly won’t go down in movie history as an all-time classic or anything but for what it is, it’s very entertaining. And entertaining in a dramatic sort of way as opposed to the usual guns and car chase routines that plague most movies nowadays. It’s only in the disappointingly silly denouement that it loses its edge and drags the film way down. It’s possible to distinguish between the last small section and the first majority section but that doesn’t stop the nosedive at its climax from being disappointing.
Director Neil LaBute handles the tension-building very well throughout most of the film, primarily in the first section, where the film works very well, when this cat and mouse game between Chris, one of the new neighbours, and Abel is going on. It starts off with Abel dropping subtle hints to Chris, just something to give him the picture. It then turns into a sort of childish “getting one over on the other” sort of farce when, for example, Abel puts on his security lights to shine in Chris’s bedroom window to annoy him; he then does likewise to retaliate. This kind of back and forth between male neighbours, particularly, is to be expected, but Lakeview Terrace shows us the extremes that it’s possible for this type of situation to get to.
Samuel L. Jackson has always been a dominating presence on screen, even when it’s in a more subdued role such as in Unbreakable or even Jackie Brown. But it’s been a while where he’s played a character that’s been much different from anything else he's done in the past. He often seems to just be collecting the paychecks, but not so much here. It really feels like he’s putting the effort forth on this one. He starts out as a quiet and protective family man but as the movie goes on he shows other more aggressive sides. He’s the definition of the neighbour from hell in this movie; he goes from being annoying to obtrusive to downright scary. And the worst of it is he’s a cop and has been for the last 28 years. He’s well respected and trusted among his fellow officers and therefore who are they going to believe if and when his new neighbours call them up for help? It’s a very interesting premise to go on, one that's believable, and it sets the way for a very compelling film.
Although Wilson and Washington pale in comparison to such a huge presence as Jackson, they are nonetheless believable in their roles. Granted it’s not the greatest of tasks to just react to the actions of their imposing new neighbour, but they’re certainly adequate. You can really empathise with their situation, one that is almost impossible to deal with. Despite its quite ridiculous ending the film is nonetheless something you can take on board and go along with as opposed to rolling your eyes.
The film touches on some interesting life issues, most prevalently the race issue. Abel’s initial problem with the couple is the fact that he’s white and she’s black and he doesn’t think that’s right. To him it should never be this way; he’s kind of like the grandfather who can’t come to terms with the modern world. And the couple are the total opposite, particularly the husband. “I’ve had it with your race shit,” he says to Abel, finally having enough of even trying to explain the situation of how much he’s making his and his wife’s life a living hell. It’s at this point that we are finally given a peek as to why Abel thinks the way he does, why he has such a problem. And what is revealed, although maybe a bit too much on the convenient side of things in the way that it allows the film to start coming to a close, almost makes you feel sorry for him, or at least see his point of view. Jackson's performance here makes Abel feel like a very real person.
If Lakeview Terrace had carried on with its compelling nature right until the very end it would have perhaps been a competitor for the list of “best of the year”. It’s sadly just one of those cases where the ending, in this case the last ten minutes or so, drags the film to an almost complete halt and takes it down a few pegs from “great” to simply “good”. It feels so forced and so contrived that it induces eye-rolling and ruins your involvement in the story. It’s not enough to waste the entire movie but it’s certainly an unwelcome annoyance. Fortunately the power of Jackson and the compelling nature of the whole predicament make for a really entertaining movie.
Love thy neighbour? Yeah, right.