Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

You have to hate it when a good movie goes bad and for a good ninety percent of its running time ‘Lakeview Terrace’ was a really, really good movie. With a very talented director behind the camera in Neil LaBute and a star with the presence of Samuel L. Jackson, who at times has proven himself to be a damn fine actor such as in his recent work in ‘Black Snake Moan’ or as he shows in this film, and with the subject matter being the always hot button topic of race along with the back drop of Los Angeles literally burning to the ground, ‘Lakeview Terrace’ pretty much had me riveted. Then it came time to resolve our little movie and what better way to resolve what was once a tense, edgy social drama than to hopefully transform it into a full blown action thriller with a Spaghetti Western style stand off and a shoot out. Outstanding.

Abel Turner (Jackson) is having a bit of a struggle with life at the moment. The 28 year Los Angeles beat cop has been widowed for three years and all by his lonesome is raising one rebellious teenage daughter Celia (Regina Nehy) and a far less rebellious adolescent son Marcus (Jaishon Fisher), though the boy does worship accused rapist Kobe Bryant which certainly draws the ire of his law abiding father. Abel is a tough father but he is fair to his children and it is clear that he loves them. Abel’s life becomes much more complicated when he gets some new neighbors in the Matson’s. Now perhaps this shouldn’t complicate Abel’s life but when he discovers that Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson), who is white, is married to the African American Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington), for whatever reason this just doesn’t sit well in the least for the African American police officer.

Seems that older black dudes in general dislike Chris since Lisa’s wealthy father Harold (Ron Glass) treats him as a virtual non-entity. However, the couple does seem to care for each other and they are ready to make a fresh new start in their new home in

Lakeview Terrace. It’s not long when Chris makes the acquaintance of his new neighbor Abel who in so many words lets Chris know that he’s not welcome in the neighborhood. It could be the flood lights shining in the bedroom, the slashed tires, the vandalized air conditioning unit, the incredibly uncomfortable dinner engagements or the fact that Abel didn’t appreciate the sex show the young couple put on for him an his kids in their pool, but Abel has grown to hate the Mattson’s fairly passionately. Abel’s has even managed to drive a wedge between husband and wife causing them to question how committed they are to their union, but when it looks like the pair have resolved themselves to sticking it out, this is when this police officer, who seemed pretty darn rational when it comes to everything else in his life NOT related to interracial couples, makes some rather crazy irrational moves. Which of course will eventually lead to the aforementioned Spaghetti Western style standoff and shoot out. Outstanding.

There were moments in ‘Lakeview Terrace’ which I thought were just pure cinematic genius. I love the way that LaBute and his screenwriters integrated the racial aspects into this movie as it wasn’t particularly over bearing but it was always there bubbling underneath the narrative. Even though Chris and Lisa loved each other there were still issues there, and truth be told Lisa’s father’s dislike of Chris was probably more of a class issue than a race issue. I also enjoyed the presentation of the character of Abel Turner who certainly wasn’t you’re typical movie antagonist. At least until the last ten minutes. Samuel L. dusted off his A-game for this particular role as he gave his character a lot of conflicting layers to deal with and on many levels, with the obvious exception being his murderous hatred of interracial couples, this was a character I had no trouble identifying with as his honor system and personality was eerily similar to what I was raised by. And when Abel Turner went bad, at least in the way that was congruent with the character, with that soulless grin that only Samuel Jackson can execute, it only added to the already high tension level that LaBute was able to fabricate. Make no mistake, this was a Samuel L. Jackson film, but Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington lent solid support with their abilities to deal with the complexities of race and class within their own relationship, so it’s a good thing they were up for the challenge since ‘Lakeview Terrace’ is pretty much a three person play.

Then it all goes straight to hell. After taking all the time build characters and create believably tense situations and complex narrative points it all boils down an ending out of… hell, I don’t know, Lethal Weapon? I mean I like a shootout as much as the next guy but this seemed completely out of place to me for this particular film. On one hand it seemed like a great idea to make the character of Abel Turner a complex realistic character, but considering how the filmmakers chose to close out the show, they probably would have better served just to make him a babbling loon like every other movie thriller bad guy. Or change the original ending. I’ll be waiting for the DVD release on this one for the always anticipated ‘alternate ending’ because surely there had to be some other options to go with than what they ultimately settled upon.

And there you go. ‘Lakeview Terrace’ is a movie that had me singing its praises until the end pretty much ruined the damn thing. At least it did for me, because you may have a different opinion. And to think I was ‘this close’ to completely absolving my man Neil LaBute for ‘The Wicker Man’.

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