Lakeview Terrace ***1/2 (out of ****)

Director: Neil LaBute
Writers: David Loughery and Howard Korder
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Ron Glass, Jay Hernandez, Ragine Nehy, Jaishon Fisher
Rating: PG-13 (intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language and some drug references)
Running Time: 106 min
Release Date: 9/19/08

Lakeview Terrace is a film directed by Neil LaBute that takes a mirror image look at racial prejudice. Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is a LAPD officer a few years from retirement. He has been raising his two children by himself for the past three years since the death of his wife in a car accident. He is a strict disciplinarian and is always correcting his children English. He becomes upset when his son comes to the dinner table wearing a Lakers 24 jersey. A causal basketball fan (which I’m not) would know that his Kobe Bryant’s number. This is a little foreshadowing.

The Abel is getting some new neighbors: Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) Mattson. He doesn’t seem displeased as Chris unloads the truck and Lisa is talking to her father (Ron Glass). However, when Lisa kisses Chris, we see Abel’s attitude change dramatically to disapproval. The interracial couple next door seems to bother Abel. Soon Chris is treated to a slowly escalating pattern of harassment. At first this is just annoying. One time when Chris is listening to rap in his car after pulling into the driveway he is subjected to a mock robbery by Abel who laughs it off as just advice to be careful. But, he also gets in the barb, “listing to that noise doesn’t make you black.”

Abel shines bright floodlights into the Mattson house through the night. Chris finds his tires slashed one day. He can’t prove that Abel did it but he suspects it. Abel objects to his children visiting to swim in the Mattson’s pool even though Lisa welcomes them. A pattern develops that suggests that Abel is a racist and his issue with the Mattson’s is that they are an interracial couple.

After the vandalism Chris and Lisa meet with Lisa’s father who is a lawyer but he offers little hope for doing anything about the situation. As Lisa’s father explains, Abel has the color issue on his side and that color happens to be blue! He suggest that moving is probably the best alternative. However, Chris is determined to stay.

Samuel L. Jackson, who is always enjoyable to watch, shines in the role of Abel. As we the film develops we learn more about Abel. We see him on the job with his partner Javier Villareal (Jay Hernandez) as he humiliates black suspect who threatens to kill himself. His bias is not simply anti-white but is also a rejection of the gang culture and everything goes with it that has taken over the south central LA neighborhood in which he grew up. In a world in which everyone is “gray,” he would no doubt be a typical hard-nosed cop. But, he is also alienated from the police culture too. For one thing he believes that his wife didn’t get prompt medical attention because of her race. Whatever the origins of his bias against interracial marriages, they have been greatly reinforced by his suspicions that his wife was having an affair with her white boss.

Whatever sympathies we might have for Abel, his behavior is totally out of control as he saws down trees planted by Chris on near the property line, has an inappropriate confrontation with Lisa over his daughters visit, hosts a loud all-night bachelor party for a fellow officer who is getting married, and has a criminal, who he uses as a snitch, break in the Mattson home leading to an assault on Lisa. Events spiral out of control leading to the ultimate tragic conclusion.

Lakeview Terrace is a more that a typical drama of a couple under siege. It also lets us view a lot of sensitive racial issues from a unique perspective by reversing the typical roles of white and black. LaBute and Jackson have shown great originality and courage in taking on these issues.

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