Review

Lakeview Terrace Review

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Sep 18, 2008 | 9:21pm EDT

Lakeview Terrace pushes a lot of racial buttons in a melodramatic but gripping story of a young interracial couple--Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington)--who move into beautiful new suburban house in a hilly neighborhood of Southern California. Trouble starts when the self-appointed lord of the street an uptight veteran LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) turns an unkind suspicious eye toward his new neighbors. As if his relentless patrols up and down the block weren’t bad enough he aims his super bright light right into their bedroom all night long. When he catches his kids spying on the couple as they make love in their pool his rage against the pair increases and tensions ratchet up--not helped by a major brush fire threatening homes in the near-distance. Everyone’s patience meets a boiling point as the marriage encounters troubles and Abel’s flash-point temper gets him into hot water on his job. As the fires burn closer the not-so-neighborly conflict careens out of control. The incomparable Jackson is riveting to watch even if this pretty straightforward role of a controlling racist cop doesn’t pose one of the bigger acting challenges of his career. As Abel Jackson simply commands our attention every moment he is on screen and dominates the proceedings like few actors can. You feel his simmering anger and prejudices although until the final moments there isn’t a whole lot of back story to add dimension or complexity to the character. He seems to be what he is with no logical reason for targeting the nice young couple next door. Essentially this is really a three-character piece which--save for a few scenes of Jackson at the station or on patrol--is concentrated solely in the cul-de-sac. Making up the other two parts of this triangle Wilson and Washington are quite believable both slow to burn until given no other choice. Wilson is treading on territory he explored in Little Children and is quite effective as you conjure up memories of the young Paul Newman whom Wilson uncannily resembles especially when shooting pool. Washington continues to show the great promise she displayed in Ray and holds her own in this company. Playwright screenwriter and director Neil LaBute is known for creating tough characters (usually men) and cynical scenarios in his work so it’s easy to see why he might have been attracted to this material written by David Loughery and Howard Korder. His direction is so tight and even claustrophobic at times making the film feel like it could have been designed for a theatrical production--an area in which LaBute  is well versed. The power of the piece comes from the combustible interaction between the three main actors and the pitch perfect pacing lets the action peak at just the right moments. By slowly building this house of dominoes LaBute  knows just the precise moment to go for the jugular and knock them all down. In other hands it all could have been too much but the director nicely reins things in before unleashing the real fury simmering beneath the surface of this engrossing adult drama.

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