Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry
Washington, Ron Glass, Justin Chambers. Rated PG-13.
Neil LaBute’s 2006 remake of The
Wicker Man found the director and sometime
playwright’s talent for incisive, often unsettling character portraits wasted
on a lumbering exercise in self-parody. His curious follow-up, Lakeview
Terrace, returns him to more familiar
territory: a world on which one man’s distaste for his neighbors’ mixed
marriage leads first to petty hostilities and later to something more far-fetched.
That man is Abel Turner (Samuel L.
Jackson), a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles police force and a stern widower
who tells his children what to wear, how to think, even which basketball greats
– Shaq, not Kobe – they’re allowed to cheer for. Abel is, to put it mildly, a
control freak, the booming voice of hysterical conservatism and racist paranoia
who flies into a rage when his bellicose pronouncements are ignored. Even in
his calmer moments, he creates an atmosphere of unease with his baleful stare
and icy insinuations.
Abel is on an increasingly
deranged mission to rid his neighborhood of newcomers Chris (Patrick Wilson, of
Little Children) and Lisa (Kerry
Washington), an interracial couple whose free-spirited liberalism has no place
on his turf. His disdain manifests itself in a series of cutting remarks and
thinly veiled threats before graduating to vandalism and worse. Lakeview
Terrace, which begins as a tense,
compelling tale of ideological opposites headed for an ugly clash, ends in
contrived melodrama as Abel completes his transformation from badge-waving
bully to bogeyman.
LaBute’s films have often
reflected a fascination with the evil that men do, perhaps none moreso than his
singularly grim debut, 1997’s In the Company of Men.
Lakeview Terrace, which LaBute did
not write, is no less affecting when it
treats its characters as human beings rather than as stock players in an
increasingly cliché-ridden thriller. In the early going, Abel is just complex
enough to be intriguing – unreasonable and intolerant, yes, but somehow
sympathetic in his struggle to hold his own family together. By the final
frame, he is a monster hiding behind his shield, a caricature guided not by
principle but by raving bloodlust.