Lakeview Terrace

Lakeview Terrace

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Abel Turner (Samuel L Jackson) is a widowed cop living in an attractive middle class district of LA (the same one where Rodney King was beaten), trying to raise his kids and get by. The kids complain about all his rules, but all in all they seem happy, and Abe is popular with his neighbours, devoting himself to looking after the area. But when new neighbours move in next door - a white man married to a black woman - we start to see a different side of him. What begins as a series of awkward comments on the respective colour of their skins gradually escalates into a potentially dangerous conflict.

The American experience of racism is a strange thing to observe from a UK perspective, making some of the subtleties of Loughery and Korder's script hard to be sure of, but this probably helps rather than hinders the film, as its heroes try to convince themselves that their neighbour doesn't really mean the things he seems to be saying.

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Jackson reportedly drew on his own encounters with racist cops in LA to bring depth to his character, and it really works. What a lesser actor would have rendered simply as a monster is here very believable, sometimes sympathetic - a person who is all too easy to identify with even if his prejudices are hard to connect with. Scenes which show him in other contexts - having breakfast with his kids, or doing his job - help to make him a properly rounded character. Interestingly, Jackson's more familiar cool tough guy persona is here used as an illustration of behaviour that is not appropriate in real life, and the sophisticated masculinity he has come to be associated with is put to the test as Abe and neighbour Chris (Patrick Wilson) become involved in an increasingly ridiculous contest to prove who is the most manly.

This exploration of modern masculine identity is perhaps what drew director Neil LaBute (In The Company Of Men) to the script. Unfortunately, it doesn't really give him much material to work with, and he is let down by a charisma-free performance from Wilson - one could easily imagine Abe not wanting to live near him simply because he's so boring, or because he's a dick about so many petty things. From that point of view one might consider this a story about Chris learning to grow up and take on adult responsibilities, but it's hard to care. Kerry Washington is more interesting as his wife, but gets little narrative space of her own, being sidelined in favour of the conflict between the men.

Overall, this is a disappointment from LaBute, even after the Wicker Man debacle. Despite Jackson's work, it's a bland film, taking on complicated and sensitive issues yet managing to be completely unchallenging. It falls so neatly into the genre of predictable mainstream thriller that those artistic devices it does use - such as the smouldering threat of nearby forest fires and constant references to the increasing heat - end up being unintentionally funny. A prime example of the damage big studios can do to promising stories.

Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2008
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A widowed LAPD officer is determined to make his new neighbours leave because they're in a mixed-race marriage.
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Director: Neil LaBute

Writer: David Loughery, Howard Korder

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Regine Nehy, Ron Glass, Justin Chambers, Jay Hernandez

Year: 2008

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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