23 October 2008 | Simon_Says_Movies
Taut and well acted but with a nearly unforgivable ending
Seven. Yes, seven. No, I'm not talking about the David Fincher directed thriller, nor am I referring to Samurai, Dwarfs or the lucky number. In this context, seven denotes the number of wince inducing minutes it takes for Lakeview Terrace to throw it all away.
Particular genres of movies tend to have a nasty propensity to ruin their final acts, the foremost of those being thrillers and horror films. May it be an amateur director not knowing how to complete their vision, studio intervention sucking the life from the screen or the commonly occurring revelatory "shocker" ending which tries to jam too many ideas in the viewer's already bleeding sockets. Oddly, director Neil LaBute's latest offering does not succumb to a conventional destructive timeline, but instead opts to cataclysmically implode in literally the final scenes, a feat which few films can boast. Perhaps I am being an iota harsh, as I am recommending this film and the majority of this review will be skewed favourably, but chiefly, my unbounded feelings of contempt towards the finale should stand as a testament to their standalone absurdity which contrasts harshly with the preceding 90 or so minutes.
Samuel L. Jackson has had a vibrant career portraying characters in two spectrums of the acting realm. On one side we have his depictions that can be lumped into the loud-mouthed anti-hero category (Pulp Fiction, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Snakes on a Plane), and on the other, his more nuanced (as nuanced as Sam Jackson can be) roles. (Black Snake Moan, Resurrecting the Champ, Coach Carter) Lakeview Terrace to some extent blurs this boundary, but for the most part Jackson plays his role straight, and he is very good because of it. Jackson plays Abel Turner a veteran, but widowed LAPD officer who lives his daughter Celia (Regine Nehy) and Son Marcus (Jaishon Fisher) on Lakeview Terrace in the hills. He is strict to be sure and his protective nature sometimes obscures the obvious affection for his children. It is touches like this, and similar additions by LaBute that makes his character all the more menacing when the tension later builds, as he is not so much a faceless villain, but a deeply flawed everyman. Despite an encroaching wildfire, things are routine on Lakeview; Abel patrols the neighbourhood at night, loves his job and wants nothing more then to protect his family. Things change however when a new couple move in next door. The fact that husband Chris (Patrick Wilson) wife Lisa (Keri Washington) are interracial is only the fuel for Abel's contempt, and when his children witness a late-night skinny dip by these two newlyweds, the fire erupts and Abel and Chris' lives spiral out of control.
Fashioning Abel as a cop is an intelligent choice, as per the television advertisements indicate, what are they going to do, and who are the authorities going to believe; who will police the police indeed. The tension for the duration is so high, you don't even need a knife to cut it, and a definite sense of dread and menace perforates the narrative. LaBute, truthfully, makes few mistakes, he allows for character development, and as I mentioned not just regarding Chris and Lisa, lets the story develop at a slow burning pace, with the hillside fires mirroring the escalating tempers. The story is also far more insightful and caring then I ever would have anticipated regarding the complicated issue of race and marriage, without feeling shoehorned into the thriller template. As you can clearly discern I have a fairly large amount of admiration for Lakeview Terrace, which brings me to the ending.
Few endings I have seen have represented such a radical shift in tone, and made its characters undertake such ridiculous and uncharacteristic actions then we see here; and I assure you it is jarring. The immediately preceding act, is an iota off kilter with the acts preceding, but does not draw attention and properly illustrates the consequences when things are taken too far in the name of retribution. I was fully under the impression that things were going to end sharply until Abel's character jolts erratically from intelligent saboteur to volcanic lunatic and makes a series of choices that are against both his nature, and what the audience would want to see transpire. Either Abel lost his mind, or the director did. Those who seek out this film in theatres may be disappointed and feel the conclusion somehow managed to bilk them out of their cash like a sneaky pickpocket. LaBute's finale does not so much embody a slap in the face, but a swift hard kick to the groin.
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