Screenwriter: David Loughery, Howard Korder
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington
Running time: 110 mins
"Neighbours, everybody needs good Neighbours," a cheery, feel-good Aussie soap once had us believe. Neil LaBute's new movie echoes those sentiments, but exchanges the jaunty singalong for a dark thriller, which finds a neighbourly disagreement escalating into a dangerous game of tit for tat squabbles. Amidst the pranks and disputes, LaBute also tackles tensions surrounding interracial marriage and directly references the beating of Rodney King in 1991 at Lake View, Los Angeles.
Chris (Wilson) and Lisa Mattison (Washington) are newlywed first-time homeowners who have just moved next door to Abel Turner (Jackson). An LAPD cop and single father, Turner enforces the law as strictly at home as he does on the street. The cop's displeasure at his new neighbours' interracial relationship is evident from the off ("You can listen to that [hip-hop] all you want, but when you wake up in the morning, you’ll still be white," Abel tells Chris), but when the Mattisons refuse to bow to the law enforcer's rules, a spiteful war between the households begins.
Lakeview Terrace had the potential to be a horrible movie. LaBute, a white man, helming a movie where the black man is the racist, with Samuel L Jackson, a star who doesn't seem to understand the term quality control, the signs weren't good. Thankfully, both director and actor have pulled out their fingers for this project and created a thoroughly engaging feature. While it may suffer from comparisons to the Oscar-winning Crash, this film deserves credit for tackling a subject matter that Hollywood generally shies away from.
Jackson is back to his menacing Pulp Fiction bad ass best as ball-busting officer Abel. However, behind Abel's draconian rules and scarily stern parenting skills, Jackson installs some depth and humanity which leaves the audience in a quandary over his character. While his actions - slashing car tyres, get rough with criminals, smacking his daughter - cannot be approved, his verbal exchanges with Chris and Lisa are always rooted in reason. Jackson flipflops between the demented man behind the garden fence and overprotective family man with menacing ease.
Aside from the racial tensions, LaBute's movie repeatedly alludes to the mythical concept of "being a man". The power relationship between Chris and Abel is less often about race or music being played too loud and more about control. Chris's refusal to accept his wife's pregnancy casts doubts over his character, especially when Abel is chasing down wife-beating criminals at the same time, but the cop is the one that eventually loses the plot when his job and authority are finally taken away from him.
The film's shootout ending is the film's only flaw, but it's quite a major one. While Abel's attack on the Mattison house may be exciting, the predictability of the outcome and the cosy smoothing off of the story,gives the impression that LaBute bottled or couldn't think of a more imaginative conclusion. However, this shouldn't detract from what is ultimately a very brave movie, which finds a rejuvenated Jackson reminding audiences that he can do a lot better than Virgin Media ad campaigns.