Abel Turner is a police officer, and a single father trying to raise two kids in a world that he knows is tough as hell and on top of this, he’s a black man who’s a racist, but somewhat understandably so, but it’s controlled.. to a point. That point gets raised when in his neighborhood of Lakeview Terrace comes new neighbors into the house next door, a young interracial married couple named Chris and Lisa Mattson, Chris is white and Lisa is black, and slowly Abel starts to see things with the two that he sees as disruptive to his worldview… and vice-versa with the Mattson’s, especially Chris. And trouble between the households starts to erupt…
Lakeview Terrace is the latest movie from director Neil LaBute, a director who’s always out to get a rise from his audience, and he usually does it in each one of his movies. In the Company of Men is still one of my very favorite movies to watch and to talk with people about after they see it, and hell, I’ll go on the record as one of the few who actually does enjoy his version of The Wicker Man. LaBute will continue to get that rise with Lakeview Terrace, a movie with far more meat on it’s bones than it’s simplistic marketing will suggest, and that’s basically that Sam Jackson plays a sociopath cop who’s out to make life hell for two new neighbors, and really there’s just so much more to this than that.
There’s the neighbor respect aspect (and as a homeowner my own self, believe me, there’s things I can relate to here even if in small ways), there’s a heavily racial aspect (and it would be something to imagine this movie if all races were reversed and what sort of outrage that would cause), and even an aspect that raises questions about law enforcement and just what it takes to do the job on a street level- this movie is more “cop on the edge” than something like Rightous Kill could be on it’s best day… and unfortunately, there’s no easy answers and LaBute isn’ts looking to provide any.
Yes, I could certainly see how by the time this movie gets to it’s end, other viewers could look at as entirely ridiculous, but I just see it as using high melodrama theatrics to tell it’s story. If you’ve been with the characters throughout, and are at least trying to come to some understanding with them all as you go, by the time it makes it to it’s end, you should still be questioning if the right things happened to get to that end.
I think this is one of the more challenging major Hollywood theatrical releases of the year, and I give LaBute high marks for how he got there, But will it translate the same for others… that’s extremely hard to say.
As I said above, this movie is nowhere near as simplistic as it’s marketing would imply, and LaBute makes some great choices to make it so, maybe the best of them being opening with getting to know Abel Turner before you get to know anyone else. And on a technical and storytelling level, the music of Jeff and Mychael Danna is nowhere near typical for something that’s marketed as just a thriller, it’s very understated and helps add to the idea of having something to think about here.
Samuel L. Jackson is Abel Turner and he just delivers a brilliant performance here, with a lot of layers built into it, so much so that he’s just not a simplistic “villain” by any means. Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington play the Mattsons, and their performances are also extremely strong and with all three characters, there’s a lot to chew on here.
I think Lakeview Terrace is just brilliant and challenging filmmaking all around and certainly up there for me with some of the best that I’ve seen this year. But at the same time, I know I can honestly say that it won’t be the same thing for others and it’ll really depend on just how open you are to trying to understand all of these very complex characters.