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September 24, 2008 > Movie Review: Lakeview Terrace

Movie Review: Lakeview Terrace

By Joe Samagond

In "Lakeview Terrace," writer-director Neil LaBute delivers a thriller that uses race in American life as an underlying current. The story has a familiar feel to it as there have been earlier movies with the same "cop behaving badly" theme. In "Lakeview Terrace" the themes are racism, honesty and the abuse of power, all set against the backdrop of a raging California wildfire. Aside from glistening swimming pools, there is really no water in sight of the Lakeview Terrace community, a tidy cul-de-sac development in suburban Los Angeles with canyons of tinder-dry brush and growing wildfires in the distance. So even before the story begins, a pall of menace hangs over this community.

The story ignites when newlyweds Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington) move in and unconsciously spark a war of nerves with their formidable next-door neighbor. Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) turns out to be a smiling, genial yet vindictive LAPD patrolman determined to make life hell for the newcomers. What crime did they commit, you ask? Their interracial marriage. But that's only the trigger. It's also political (they are liberals; Abel supports Bush) and parental (Abel thinks they are bad examples for his kids, and his teenage daughter begins to view Lisa as a surrogate mother).

"Lakeview Terrace" is at its best when Abel uses his authority as a cop to intimidate and frighten his neighbors while coming across as a good public servant. He cleverly unleashes his passive aggressiveness. His backyard floodlights light up their bedroom. When Chris plants a hedge to gain privacy, Abel begins slashing away with a chain saw. One day Chris finds all four tires on his car - a hybrid, no surprise - slashed.

But Chris is unable to do anything. After all, who is he going to call? The cops? The siege mentality begins to take a toll on the couple's relationship. As the pitch rises, Chris bends over backward, both because he is the archetypal reasonable personality and because he is cautious about how the racial conflict will play to his African-American wife. Abel sizes up Chris' insecurities and batters them mercilessly. A blowup creeps ever nearer, like the brush fire spreading slowly in the nearby hills.

The movie's overall blend of suspense and dark humor is entertaining. And if the reasons for Abel's malevolence seem a little too simplistic, Jackson ably sells his character's obsession. As a cop, he's a protector of the social order, but there is a dark side warped by old slights and simmering resentments.

With excellent pacing and building tension, this movie heightens the suspense making you eager to find out how the next twist ends. Slick, savvy and well-executed, "Lakeview Terrace" excels thanks to a superior cast and excellent direction.

Rated: PG-13 (for intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language)
Runtime: 106 minutes

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