Neil LaBute was once known as a director who made gritty, misogynistic films that definitely weren’t family fare. His films were dark and menacing. So when it came to an unnecessary remake of the classic Wicker Man, LaBute seemed like a choice that may bring that menace to the film. Unfortunately for all involved, The Wicker Man remake was a complete disaster, widely derided for it’s unintentionally hilarious moments and ridiculously over the top performance by Nicholas Cage. LaBute needed a film to redeem him, and thus, we have Lakeview Terrace.
Chris and Lisa Mattson are a recently married couple. They buy a house in a part of Los Angeles that is well-off but infamous for the Rodney King incident of 1991. The couple move in next door to Abel Turner, widower and father of two. Turner is a Los Angeles cop by day and neighbourhood watchman and less than ideal neighbour by night. Turner is incensed when he oversees Chris and Lisa having sex in their backyard pool. He’s not angry at their antics. It’s the fact that Chris and Lisa are an interracial couple that causes his consternation. And so Turner embarks on a campaign of intimidation in an attempt to drive the couple away from the neighbourhood he has lived in for twenty years.
Lakeview Terrace could easily be seen as a pretty average thriller. The premise has been done before and is pretty familiar. However, the protagonists and their motivations are different here and that’s what sets the film apart from other similar films. In Lakeview Terrace, the antagonist is Samuel L. Jackson. And thus, the film raises questions that wouldn’t have been too easily derided had Turner been a white man. We now live in a world where the United States has it’s first elected black president, so Lakeview Terrace’s timing couldn’t be better. It’s just a shame for the film that it isn’t a widely-seen film. The film plays on the notion of white man’s guilt, which really emasculates Chris’ character, played by Patrick Wilson. He’s almost helpless to defend his home against Turner, who sees his anger not as intimidation but as righteous indignation.
The film draws it’s strength from a wonderfully creepy performance by Samuel L. Jackson. When it comes to roles, Jackson is bit like the man from Del Monte. He say yes... to literally every role. His performances can sometimes be flat and dull. But when a film requires more, Jackson can deliver. And he does so here. Turner’s definitely not someone I’d like to mess with. He’s creepy, intimidating and cold, and has the muscle to back it up. Jackson literally seethes with anger and looks like he’s ready to explode at any given moment. Compared to Turner, Wilson’s Chris Mattson is even meeker than he would seem against a regular guy. But Wilson’s got the meekness maintained at the right level. You know he’ll stand up to you. However, he won’t get violent. It’s something that Turner exploits throughout the entire film. Kerry Washington plays Lisa Mattson. It’s not an exceptional role, but Washington does enough to play the wife who loves her husband, but still recognises the difference in their cultures.
The film isn’t perfect. In the last act, it does resort to the conclusion you’d expect from a thriller like this. It’s a shame because you hope throughout the film that it won’t go down that road. Having said that, it’s not a bad thriller. Had it been another actor in the role of Abel Turner, I don’t think the film would have worked. Jackson does elevate it to something more than it should be. For LaBute, it almost makes up for the incredible disaster that was The Wicker Man. Almost.