Combustible Celluloid
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With: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Ron Glass, Justin Chambers, Jay Hernandez, Regine Nehy, Jaishon Fisher, Robert Pine, Keith Loneker, Caleeb Pinkett, Robert Dahey, Ho-Jung
Written by: David Loughery, Howard Korder, based on a story by David Loughery
Directed by: Neil LaBute
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language and some drug references
Running Time: 110
Date: 09/15/2008

Lakeview Terrace (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fiends and Neighbors

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like his previous films Nurse Betty and Possession, director Neil LaBute has once again managed to take a surface Hollywood entertainment and use it to work through some of humanity's ugliest and most hateful issues. Single father and cop Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) peers out his suburban window and watches the new neighbors move in. He's clearly perturbed that it's a clean-cut white guy, Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson), married to a beautiful black girl, Lisa (Kerry Washington).

We eventually learn that he has his reasons, his own emotional wounds, to explain why and how his buttons have been pushed, but it launches an all-out battle of wills. It begins when Abel's ultra-bright security lights shine right in the couple's new bedroom window (they haven't bought shades yet). Chris goes over to ask him to turn them off. Abel would like to, but it's complicated. They're on a timer, etc. All of Chris' encounters with Abel play like little chess moves. Abel is always careful to smile and invite his new neighbor in for a beer, without ever saying anything threatening or making a move. Yet his entire demeanor is aggressive and condescending.

Anyone who has seen the trailer knows that Abel is a cop and that Chris and Lisa are up against a brick wall when it comes to taking action against their potentially dangerous neighbor. Abel knows exactly how to turn the tables on Chris at any given moment, making any infraction look like it was Chris' doing. All this stuff was already covered with ample tension in Jonathan Kaplan's Unlawful Entry (1992). The obvious twist in LaBute's version is the racial angle, but that's not LaBute's real point. His real point has nothing to do with black and white, but rather with red and blue (states).

Chris is described early on as a graduate of UC Berkeley, which means he's an educated liberal. Abel, on the other hand, is a full-fledged conservative, who prays in the mornings and polishes his guns at night. He has force on his side, and a fearsome willingness to enter the fray. As a cop and as a Republican, he believes that an offense is the best defense. Abel plays many roles in the film, neighbor, protector, villain, and all of them have a kind of physical upper hand. Chris only comes out ahead when he learns to embrace his inner NRA, or in other words to abandon any concept political standing.

LaBute ramps up the visual suspense with the arrival of a giant California fire (during a drought, of course) that rages closer and closer to the suburbs. Over the course of the film, the skies turn hazier, then redder, and finally black as the conflict comes to a head. So, yes, Lakeview Terrace is very much another gleaming surface Hollywood entertainment, but LaBute has once again managed to find something squirming and icky -- and horrifyingly truthful -- inside.

Best Buy Co, Inc.