(Screen Gems) Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Regine Nehy, Jaishon Fisher, Ron Glass, Justin Chambers, Jay Hernandez. Directed by Neil LaBute
Moving into a new neighborhood is always stressful. One hopes that they have nice neighbors, or at least neighbors who will leave you the heck alone. That isn’t always what you get, however.
Chris (Wilson) and Lisa (Washington) Mattson have moved into a new house in an affluent neighborhood on a cul-de-sac called Lakeview Terrace. They are an interracial couple; Chris is white, his wife African-American. That shouldn’t attract much attention in this day and age.
Except it does, particularly from their next door neighbor Abel Turner (Jackson) who disapproves of their relationship. The fact that the two are so obviously affectionate with each other, particularly in front of his children Marcus (Fisher) and Celia (Nehy) further bothers him. He begins to create little annoyances, bent on making their stay in the neighborhood uncomfortable.
For the most part, the couple tries to ignore the pettiness going on but Chris’ masculine pride gets in the way and the incidents begin to escalate. The fact that Abel is a police officer makes going to the authorities nearly impossible. Further adding to the tension is a wildfire burning in the Los Angeles hills near their neighborhood which threatens to burn out of control, much as the situation between Chris and Abel is getting.
Director LaBute is also a noted playwright along with being a film director with some pretty fine films to his credit (In the Company of Men and Nurse Betty among them). He specializes in depicting situations designed to make the audience uncomfortable, something I like to applaud. When we are made uncomfortable, we have a tendency to examine our feelings in order to determine what about the situation makes us uncomfortable. In turn, we begin to learn a little bit about ourselves.
None of the lead characters are especially likable and that’s the way LaBute likes it. Abel, for example, isn’t a cut and dried villain. There are times we feel sympathy for the man, but at the end of the day he is a racist, pure and simple, regardless of the things that got him there. Jackson is a superb actor and only someone of his caliber could make an audience be sympathetic for a character who in lesser hands would be simply the villain.
He has a fine actor to work off of in Patrick Wilson. Wilson’s Chris is a liberal on the outside but is goaded into playing Abel’s game, which leads to friction with Lisa. Lisa’s father (Glass) puts further strain on the relationship with his own disapproval of the relationship, asking Chris “Are you planning to have children with my daughter” in a tone that makes no mistake that he hopes the answer will be “no.”
Interracial relationships are far more common in the 21st century than they were in the last and it is us older folks who seem to have the most problems with it. It is nice to see a movie that treats these relationships with such candor, neither taking for granted that the relationship is acceptable nor ignoring the difficulties that come with a mixed marriage, to use an archaic term. That it’s still an issue is actually a little bit depressing.
Still, the movie works as a thriller for the most part, other than the ending which sinks into a bit of Hollywood cliché territory. The chance to see Samuel L. Jackson at the top of his game is worth renting this to begin with; to allow the issues that the movie raises percolate in one’s head after the fact is priceless.
WHY RENT THIS: Samuel L. Jackson is da mutha effin’ bomb. Interracial relationships are explored with more candor than is usual for non-indie films.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending descends into the bubbling cauldron of Hollywood cliché.
FAMILY VALUES: Foul language abounds; there’s also some violence, sexuality and drug use. While it’s only rated PG-13, sensitive souls might find this a bit rough.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The name of the area in Los Angeles where Rodney King was beaten is also called Lakeview Terrace. This is referenced by the use of his “Can’t we all just get along” line.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: The Baader Meinhof Complex