Friday, August 28, 2015

Lakeview Terrace (2008)

"Samuel L. Jackson's playing a psychotic police officer who abuses his authority. Whatever." That was my reaction upon first seeing the TV spots for this back in the late summer of 2008. The spots were pretty generic, from what I remember, and they didn't make this movie out to be anything special. Plus, even though I do enjoy Jackson as an actor (most of the time, anyway), he's one of those actors who's in so many movies that he ends up being the only memorable thing in a majority of them and even then, he's not always enough to make them worth watching. So, I really didn't pay much attention to the movie and the only other thing I heard about it during its theatrical release was a bit of controversy over the fact that the villain was an African-American, which made me roll my eyes since it seems like people always look for something like that to complaint about in films and television nowadays. In fact, it wasn't until the film became available on DVD and Blu-Ray and I casually glanced on the back of them while browsing through stores that I found out that race was actually a major issue in the story. I figured it was just another generic, dime-a-dozen, PG-13 thriller but it seemed like it was a little more than that. Still, it wasn't a movie that I sought out and the only reason I even picked it up eventually was because I was spending a lot of money that I had gotten from my relatives for Christmas and I found it cheap at Wal-Mart. On the message board of this website that I used to go to all the time, there was a thread where you could talk about what you had picked up recently and when I mentioned this as part of my haul, I got this response: "You got Lakeview Terrace? Yikes!" I wasn't sure what that person meant by that since he didn't elaborate further. I don't know if he said that because he thought the movie sucked or because of the whole racial controversy around it but, whatever the case, he felt that it wasn't a wise choice. I didn't pay much heed to it, though, and when I finally got around to watching Lakeview Terrace, I wasn't expecting anything other than, at the most, an okay thriller with a bit of controversy to it that was more significant. But, boy, how this exceeded those low expectations! I'll say right off the bat that I really enjoy this film. I was surprised at how much I liked it and, with each repeated viewing, I've grown to like it more and more. It was surprising to find out that the movie is actually a drama for the most part and doesn't become a thriller until the tail-end of the third act but I think it's a very well-done, well-told, and nicely-acted story about how prejudice isn't confined to just one ethnic group.

Before we go any further, though, I want to try to talk down any people who don't exactly care for this movie for a certain reason, which is why I initially hesitated doing this review in the first place. I know that there are many out there who feel that this movie doesn't paint the most flattering picture of African-Americans and I couldn't respect that view more. Even though I really like the movie, I will say that there are aspects of it that I do feel go overboard in that respect. But, I do enjoy this movie because I feel it has a lot going for it, I think it handles its subject well for the most part, and I'm going to be honest and describe why I think the movie succeeds. I don't mean any disrespect so, please, relax. Some may feel I'm being paranoid by saying this but, since I don't tackle movies with this subject matter that often (I honestly don't seek them out because they're usually just not my thing), I felt I had to make my intention clear, especially since I'm a white man. So, with that melodramatic disclaimer out of the way, let's get into this.

As wildfires burn out of control in California, Abel Turner, a widowed, 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, is dealing with the loss of his wife three years before and attempting to raise his two kids as best as he can, however they're not too crazy about his overly strict rules, especially his teenage daughter. One extremely hot day, after his kids leave for school, some new neighbors arrive to purchase the house next door, which catches Abel's interest. Initially, it looks the neighbors are a black couple, although the man is much older than the woman, but Abel soon realizes that the older man is actually her father while her husband is a white man, much to his chagrin. The couple, Chris and Lisa Mattson, quickly settle into their new life in Lakeview, the suburban neighborhood out of L.A., despite the annoyance of Abel's outdoor security lights shining directly into their bedroom during their first night. The following day, Chris meets Abel, who introduces himself in a rather unorthodox manner. Although he's friendly enough, there's an undercurrent of hostility towards Chris and his wife as Abel talks to him, and his opinion of them goes down even further when he, as well as his kids, sees them having sex in their swimming pool. Following that, their AC-unit is vandalized, Abel's security lights continue shining into their bedroom, and the more Chris talks to him, the more Abel makes it clear that he doesn't like their being together, let alone living next door to him. Following a party at their house where he chastises them and some of their guests for certain opinions that they hold, particularly when one makes a very unflattering comment about the police, Chris confronts Abel as he leaves about his behavior but the cop obviously has no intention of staying out of their life, as Chris tells him to. Things quickly go downhill, with Abel making Chris and Lisa's day-to-day life a living hell, with them not being able to do much because of his stature in the police department. Things get further compounded when Lisa, accidentally or not, become pregnant, something that Chris was insistent about waiting on, and as the wildfires get closer and closer to Lakeview, Abel's already unbalanced mental state deteriorates further to the point where he will do whatever he can to drive Chris and Lisa out of their home, not matter how horrific his actions may be.

I would have never, ever imagined that Lakeview Terrace was directed by the same guy who did that ridiculous remake of The Wicker Man with Nicholas Cage ("Oh, God, not the bees! Not the bees!"), a fact that I didn't know until I watched the Nostalgia Critic video on that film. To say that I was dumbfounded when I learned that is an understatement. I guess it proves that you should never base your opinion of someone's talent on one misfire, even if that misfire is particularly abysmal, as I did after the release of The Wicker Man. It was also during that video and in my research while preparing this review that I learned that Neil Labute is a very polarizing director in general. While his work more often than not does get good notices, some critics have labelled him a misanthropist and a mysoginist, both for his films and his extensive theater work, with Your Friends & Neighbors and In the Company of Men in particular being targeted as evidence of this. Speaking of the Nostalgia Critic, during the intro of that Wicker Man review, Doug Walker mentioned how Labute's films have a mean-spirited streak to them that most critics have eaten up (indeed, Siskel and Ebert gave In the Company of Men two thumbs up and Ebert gave Lakeview Terrace a very positive review, awarding it a perfect score of four stars), while audiences have often been left dumbfounded. I can't really comment on this myself too much since, truth be told, Lakeview Terrace is the only film of his that I've seen (do I really need to see The Wicker Man from beginning to end to declare it ridiculous and a complete insult of the original 70's film?; and yes, I do know that the "bees" scene wasn't in the theatrical version), although that one line about women from In the Company of Men that Walker showed in that video did make me go, "Yikes," and does make it not that hard to believe that controversy is nothing new for him.

There are, believe it or not, a few sympathetic aspects to Abel Turner, with how he's been dealing, unsuccessfully, with the loss of his wife for the past three years, and has been trying to raise his kids as best as he can, not understanding that his overly strict ways are not accomplishing anything other than driving them further away from him, especially his daughter. However, that's as far as that goes because otherwise, Abel truly is the neighbor from hell. Even before he discovers that his new neighbors are an interracial couple, he's spying on them as soon as the moving van shows up and when he does find out who they are, he shines his extremely bright, outside security lights right into their bedroom. While Abel has had those lights for years now, it's not too farfetched to believe that he repositioned them to shine into their bedroom once he found out about his new neighbors. And while Chris did have his car sticking out in the road a little bit with how he was parked, you have to think that Abel gave him a ticket just out of some sick pleasure. When Abel first talks to Chris, he scares the hell out of him by pretending to be a mugger, and when he talks to Chris a little bit afterward, he's friendly enough but there's a detectable undercurrent of a superior, condescending attitude and a feeling that Chris and Lisa shouldn't be together. He ends said conversation by telling Chris that he can listen to the rap music he was listening to when he pulled up all night long but he'll still be white when he wakes up in the morning. Things go downhill rapidly after Abel and his two kids see Chris and Lisa having a little fun in their swimming pool that night, with him sabotaging their AC-unit, and becoming gradually more hostile towards Chris whenever he talks to him, particularly when he asks him about the security lights, telling him that he saw him and his wife the night before and suggesting that the two of them go somewhere where that's acceptable behavior. It culminates when Abel attends Chris and Lisa's housewarming party and acts particularly nasty and critical towards them and their other guests, revealing Chris' secret smoking habits in front of Lisa, becoming hostile towards them for opinions on social and political matters he feels they know nothing about, and really putting down a couple who have a low opinion of police officers. After the party, Chris confronts Abel about his behavior but Abel makes it very clear that he's not going to stop until they leave, smiling evilly at Chris when his security lights come on right after he tells him to stay out of his life. From there, he escalates in his abuse towards them, sabotaging Chris' car, forcing Chris to take part in a bachelor party against his will, recording it, and sending the DVD to Lisa, taking a chainsaw to some plants that Chris puts along their fenceline, and making increasingly nasty and prejudiced comments about the two of them and their relationship, all the while making use of his position in the police department to keep them from doing anything about it.

Abel isn't just overbearing in his relationship with his new neighbors. On the job, he's pretty rough towards the people he deals with, even when it's uncalled for. While I can forgive what he does to an informant of theirs because the guy turns out to be a creep and makes some really disgusting comments about underage girls he's "used" before, when he and his partner deal with a guy who was threatening to shoot his wife and kid, Abel at first acts like he's going to help him, talking him down from killing himself when he corners him, and then goes overboard, grabbing the shotgun and cocking it for him, telling him he'd better be ready to go through with what he threatened to do, before taking it away and punching him in the chest with its butt, which he denies doing later on when two agents from Internal Affairs come to him with assault charges from the guy. Again, the guy was threatening his family with a shotgun, took some shots at Abel and his partner, and Abel told him to be a man and be a father to his child, but, still, Abel doing what he did, which apparently left the guy with three cracked ribs, and then lying about it really says something. You also learn that this is not the first instance of questionable behavior on his part while on the job, so there's that as well. Incidentally, when Abel gets home from work the day he dealt with that guy, another aspect of his life reaches its boiling point: his relationship with his kids. As I've been saying, Abel tries to raise his kids as a single father as he sees fit but his overabundance of rules and overbearing attitude has been driving a wedge between them, particularly when it comes to him and his daughter, Celia. When he catches her over at Chris and Lisa's house at the pool and admonishes her for not asking for permission from him to go over there (not that he would have given it anyway), he makes more condescending remarks towards Lisa and her lifestyle, accusing her of undermining his authority, and makes a crazy, public display about being more loose, unbuttoning his shirt and dropping his pants while yelling, "It's alright! This is sick!" That's when Celia finally lets loose on him, screaming at him to stop trying to rule her life and accusing him of not knowing anything about her, letting out one final remark that makes Abel so angry that he smacks her across the face. Again, I will play devil's advocate and say that Celia did intentionally disobey her father's rules and that the last thing she said was not something you say to your dad, but still, slapping her as hard as he did was uncalled for, bad day or not.

You eventually find out why exactly Abel has it in for Chris and Lisa: when his wife died three years ago, she was in a car with her white boss when she should have been doing her job at that time, highly suggesting that she was cheating on him. He's also convinced himself that she died because the doctors didn't get to her in time and left her on the gurney because of her race, adding that they would have gotten to her if they knew her husband was a cop. It's not made clear whether Abel was always this prejudiced or if that incident in and of itself made him that way but it's obviously given him a very low opinion of white people, with him telling Chris that, "You think you can take whatever you want, and I hate that. I HATE it!" You may notice that he doesn't seem to have that many white friends, with his best friend and partner being Hispanic and the person he talks to at the beginning of the movie about the new neighbors being Asian. There are some white cops who seem to be part of his inner circle and attend the bachelor party that he hosts at his house but there's nothing to suggest that he's that close to them and he's probably just tolerant of them because he feels he has to be, as it could be with his white superior who suggests he "take some time off" after that incident with that one guy comes up. That said, though, that doesn't mean he goes easy on anyone else of different ethnicity when they do something he takes offense to, like the aforementioned black guy whom he knocked in the chest with the butt of a shotgun, the Asian woman whom he took to task for making unflattering remarks about the police. or even Kobe Bryant, whose jersey he forces his son to remove. (I assumed that it was because of that sex scandal that Bryant got caught up in years ago but I now wonder if it also could be if it were another instance of Abel hating interracial relationships, given the ethnicity of Bryant's wife.) And finally, I have to mention that Abel's racism is not the only reason for his actions. As you watch the movie, his behavior makes it clear that there are more than a few screws loose upstairs (just look at his eyes and his face when he yells at Chris in that scene at the bar). More specifically, the loss of his wife and the circumstances surrounding it, which include him not being there for her most of the time and possibly driving her to someone else, have taken a major toll on him, and his obsession with his new neighbors combined with his job only cause him to become more and more unbalanced over time. Even his sister-in-law comments that there's something odd going on with him lately, and after his kids leave to spend two weeks with her, he really goes off the deep end after that tense conversation between him and Chris at that bar, getting his informant to trash their house to drive them away, shooting the guy in cold-blooded murder to eliminate any ties between the two of them when the plan quickly goes south, and attempting to out and out kill Chris and Lisa when they do discover that he was behind the break-in. When the cops show up, Abel hides his gun and tries to once again use his profession to get Chris himself arrested, but when Chris brings up Abel's wife and that he was oblivious to her possible affair, Abel's rage erupts and he shoots Chris in the shoulder, prompting the police to gun him down.

The person in the film whom I feel the most sympathy for by far is Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson). This poor guy is completely unprepared for the hornet's nest he and his new wife step into when they move to Lakeview. He just wants to settle into a comfortable, suburban life with Lisa, and then out of nowhere, this nutjob of a neighbor begins harassing them. As I said, while Abel is friendly enough during his first few encounters with Chris, he's able to detect an undercurrent of hostility and belittlement and isn't long before he finds out that Abel doesn't like them being together or living next door to him and is going to make their life a nightmare until they leave. From there, it quickly degenerates into a war, which begins to take its toll on the couple and create tension between them, which is compounded when Chris finds out that Lisa is pregnant. Chris, even though he said he wanted to, seemed unsure if he wanted a baby, not only given that they had just bought the house but also because of what the kid would inevitably have to deal with given who his or her parents are, as Lisa's father, Harold, brings up. Speaking of which, another reason why I feel bad for Chris is because it's obvious that Harold isn't too keen on his daughter being married to him and doesn't seem to think of him as part of the family, virtually ignoring everything that he says and speaking almost entirely to Lisa when the two of them tell him about the situation with Abel. He also says that other African-Americans constantly give him crap for being married to Lisa and that he gets tired of having to defend himself all the time, which ties in to one of the reasons why he's probably hesitant to have a baby. Granted, we don't ever see this, so it could be that what he goes through with Harold has made him a little tense around African-Americans in general, which Lisa hints at when she talks to him before he goes over to talk to Abel about his security lights, and that he misinterprets things as a result. Going back to the issue of the pregnancy, Chris is particularly upset about that because she knew he wanted to wait and begins to wonder if she didn't take her birth control pills on purpose, which increases the hostility between the two of them. But, despite the problems they're having, Chris really does love Lisa, going as far as trying to attack Abel at one point when he makes a disrespectful comment about her, defending her during the first bit of a fight the two of them have at the fence separating their properties, telling Abel, "Fuck you," after he makes another insulting comment about her and his being with her at the bar, rushing to her aide and being concerned for both her and the baby when she gets attacked, and getting into a violent fight with Abel at the end, going as far as to take a bullet to the shoulder in order to get Abel to show how crazy he is so the police will do something to ensure both his and Lisa's safety. After all of this, he realizes that nothing else matters other than he loves Lisa and he looks forward to having a family with her.

The first few times I watched the movie, I wasn't too keen on Lisa (Kerry Washington). While I certainly never wanted her to die and could see that what was going on was taking its toll on her, she didn't come across all that sympathetic towards Chris' plight and the crap he was taking from both Abel and her father because they were black. I also didn't like the idea of her possibly having tricked Chris into getting her pregnant. But, as I've watched the film more and more, I've warmed up to Lisa and can sympathize with her more. Initially, she's very happy about her and Chris having their own home and starting a new life and, since it's not until their housewarming party when she herself meets Abel, she feels that Chris is exaggerating about what he thinks Abel is insinuating. But, it doesn't take her long to realize that Abel is bad news and while she doesn't encourage the war that he and Chris soon get into, feeling that they're both taking this too far, she has no love for the man, especially when he harshly slaps his own daughter across the face in front of her and when she tells him to get off her property, he growls, "Or what?" As for the way her father treats Chris, she still doesn't really stick up for her husband, although it is clear that she doesn't appreciate the way he treats him (when he ignores Chris' answering his question about Abel and asks her the very same thing, she says, "Chris just answered your question,"). They appear to be very, very close, so it's probably hard for her to be objective about him, and she doesn't particularly like it when Chris talks about him and Abel like they're the same person. From what she says, she hasn't had it that easy either, feeling like Chris' own parents make it too much of a point to tell her that they love her every time they visit and saying that the only reason why she agreed to move to Lakeview was to support Chris in his job because she felt they were moving toward something, which doesn't feel likely now. She's not having the best time at all, saying that she hates her job, with Abel's harassment probably not making that any easier since she works from home, she hates the neighborhood, misses her family, and even suggests that they put the house back on the market. She also tells Chris that he needs to start thinking about the best future for their family now that she's pregnant. Now, as for the whole issue with her pregnancy... I still don't know for sure if the movie shows you that it was accidental or not. There's that moment where Chris looks at her birth control pills and it seems as if she hasn't taken them in a while but, not being an expert, I don't know how the layout of the pills in the pack works exactly. Please, no smartass remarks about my ignorance on this subject. In any case, I really hope that she didn't do it on purpose, (the way she tells Chris that she may have forgotten to take one or two of her pills, however, suggests that it was intentional), because that doesn't help her sympathy in my eyes, even if she did love him enough to where she really wanted to have kids with him. By the end of the movie and everything they've been through, it doesn't matter because they can now finally begin their new life and family, but that remains a sticking point for me personally.

This is one of those movies that centers primarily on three characters, while everyone else is ancillary for the most part. Abel's kids, Marcus (Jaishon Fisher) and Celia (Regine Nehy), don't have that much screentime and they really only serve to show how his mindset is beginning to affect his homelife. Actually, even though I've been saying that his abundance of strict rules is driving a wedge him and his children, it's mainly between him and Celia. Marcus isn't too thrilled about having to change his jersey at the beginning of the movie and probably doesn't care for his dad being so strict in general but he kind of just goes along with it and appears to have an okay relationship with him, whereas Celia is the one who feels that her father is trying to rule her life. While I don't doubt that Abel is a hard man to live with, that a lot of what she says about him is probably true, and that he really went overboard when he slapped her, Celia is more than a little bratty throughout the film. She has a typical, rebellious teenager mindset and cops a major attitude whenever she's around Abel, even when something was her fault, like when he'd warned her three times before not to listen to her walkman at the table and proceeds to take it away from her. She's also really mean to her brother, daring him to watch Chris and Lisa going at it in their pool next door and then telling him that he's going to hell for doing so, even though she was watching too, which leads into a shoving match and her telling Marcus not to say anything to Abel, which doesn't work because he soon sees the spectacle next door himself. And she did go over to Chris and Lisa's house and swim in their pool without Abel's permission, which Lisa did say that she needed, and the stuff that she said to him right before he slapped her was not something you say to one of your parents. But, all of that said, it does come across like Celia feels like she's being stifled by Abel (which, again, isn't hard to believe, and you know she wouldn't have allowed Celia to go next door had she asked), that she was much closer to her mom and is having a hard time living with a father who, let's face it, is unbalanced, and doesn't feel comfortable talking to him about dating, which is why she goes to Lisa, who's the only mother figure within reach (the fact that the guy she says she's interested in is white would have not gone over well with Abel had she talked to him). She may be rather bratty but some of the stuff she's going through does make me have some sympathy for her. Since she and Marcus are never seen again after they leave to spend two weeks with their aunt, you have to wonder how it went down when they came back to find that their dad had been gunned down by the police.

When I said that I do feel that this movie does go a little overboard with the race issue, I was mainly talking about the character of Lisa's father, Harold (Ron Glass). He's only in the beginning and a small scene near the end of the first act where Chris and Lisa come to him about their problems with Abel but he's around enough to where I don't like how he treats Chris like he doesn't exist, as if he's not worthy of being married to his daughter. That scene in the restaurant where they ask him what to do about Abel and he talks almost exclusively to Lisa, ignoring Chris even when he answers his questions, makes me roll my eyes. I'm like, "Do we really need this pompous jerk on top of the crazy cop that they're stuck with as a neighbor?" I get that he wants what's best for his daughter and is only overbearing, albeit not as badly as Abel, because of it, and he does have something of a point when he brings up to Chris whether or not he and Lisa will have children and how he will protect them from other people in the world like Abel, but still, the way he excludes Chris from being part of the family during their interactions is infuriating. And while we're on this subject, I have to mention the brief character of Donnie Eaton (Justin Chambers), this friend of Chris' who makes comments about how he hit the jackpot by marrying Lisa and getting this nice house, saying that he wants to date a black girl but he's working his way up and, "Doing the whole Pacific Rim thing first, if you know what I mean." And yes, that Asian girl beside him in that picture is his current girlfriend. This is where I'm like everyone else and think to myself, "Seriously, Neil Labute? Was that necessary? No wonder people say the things they do about you." Clarence Darlington (Keith Loneker) is the informant that Abel has to deal with to get information and whom he hires to trash Chris and Lisa's home to get them to move. Not much to say about him other than he's like a big, fat version of Vanilla Ice with how he talks (a comment that Abel himself makes) and that he's a pretty sick individual, making remarks about underaged girls that'll make your skin crawl and adding his own personal touch of peeing in one of Chris and Lisa's drawers while ransacking their house. He's also pretty damn stupid because he could have just bolted downstairs and out the door when Lisa stumbled across him but instead, he decides to try to shut her up, giving her time to hit the alarm, which eventually leads to Abel shooting him full of holes. Finally, Jay Hernandez from Hostel has a small role as Abel's partner and best friend, Javier Villareal. He doesn't have a lot of screentime and doesn't do anything significant to the story but he's the guy who's the most loyal to Abel, not questioning anything that he does and, in fact, taking part in his abuse of Chris at the bachelor party at Abel's house. After Abel kills Clarence, Javier calls him and tells him that he's said that he didn't lay a finger on the guy, which says to me that he has to know to some degree that his friend is not all there but takes up for him regardless. The only major thing about him is that he plans to take the exam that will boost him from officer to detective and allow a better life for himself and his family away from the bad neighborhood he has to live in but nothing becomes of it so it doesn't matter in the long run.

A major reason why I really like watching Lakeview Terrace is the setting and atmosphere. I can't explain it but I like close, intimate settings such as suburban neighborhoods, like the one we have here, especially if they're essentially a cul-de-sac, as this one also is. I don't know why but I just like the idea of a different families coexisting right next to each other in a place where the road ends. I also like that this place has a nice view of Los Angeles, making for some really nice backdrops during the scenes set at night. As I've probably said before in other reviews, I like hot, tropical sort of settings, be it places set near the ocean like Miami (which is one of the reasons why I do like the Sylvester Stallone movie, The Specialist), tropical jungles and islands, or suburban neighborhood in such a region, as is the case here. I know a lot of people hate summer because of the heat but I enjoy it and so, any movie that takes place during this time of year is fine with me, especially if you can feel the heat just by looking at it. I know I've said way too many times before that I hate the way that color correction makes movies look and I'm glad that it looks like they're finally starting to ease up on overusing it so much but I think the way they use it here helps get across the idea that it's really hot, with the orange and subtle hits of green in the color palette. I also really enjoy nighttime scenes in movies like this because I just love the feeling of a warm, summer night, and the scenes here where you also have the bright blue from Abel's security lights are very pleasing to my eye. The scenes set in the streets of L.A., however, are where the feeling of the blistering heat gets uncomfortable to me because you've got that along with the rampant crime, squalor, and pollution instead of the cosey feeling of Lakeview itself (that's the reason why I think the setting of L.A. in Predator 2 works perfectly for that film). The white-hot color palette for those scenes add even more to the unpleasantness. And even though it's little more than a backdrop to the setting, I like the idea of wildfires burning out of control nearby and how, the closer they get, the worse the situation gets, culminating in the violent final confrontation between Abel and Chris when the fire is virtually on their doorstep. I don't know if I made complete sense in this description but the setting is a big part of why I enjoy popping this flick in every now and then.

There are certain scenarios that I find to be quite unnerving, especially if they can really happen, and Lakeview Terrace is a prime example of one of them: a cop abusing his authority. Police officers are supposed to be there to protect us and help us sleep easier at night but, as we've seen countless times before, there are some cops who let the power go to their head and use it as a means to do things that they would arrest others for. Their position and power also allows them to intimidate you and keep you from doing anything about it since it's your word against theirs, and if the cop is in good-standing with his squad, as Abel is since he's a 28-year veteran, it's more than likely that you're going to lose unless you can get some real hard evidence. That's the situation that Chris and Lisa are stuck in here. They know that Abel is the one who's been harassing them and vandalizing their property but, as Lisa's father tells them, because they have no proof, that he didn't directly threaten them, and because of his position (as well as his race), they're stuck. It also doesn't help that a lot of the other cops are Abel's buddies and undoubtedly wouldn't do anything to help Chris and Lisa, as seen when he's laughing it up with one cop while the couple is talking to another who says that they can't do much of anything (the cop almost informally refers to him as Abel when talking to them) and when they help Abel humiliate Chris at the bachelor party and keep him from charging him at one point. Abel himself is well aware of their predicament, like when Lisa tells him to get off her property after he slaps Celia and he says, "You wanna call the cops?" He then offers her his radio and says, "Here. I'll tell you who's on duty." And let's not forget that Javier was more than willing to cover for Abel when he killed Clarence. As if a cop having it out for you isn't bad enough, think about the situation of him living right next door, constantly watching you and planning his next move. That's what Abel does right when the Mattsons move in and as the situation goes on and gets worse, there's nary a moment where he isn't standing nearby, watching them, and sometimes admiring his handiwork, like when he smiles after watching a spat that Chris and Lisa have by the pool. That idea of not being safe in your own neighborhood and home is one that I think anyone can relate to. To the very end, Abel uses his position to do whatever he can to the Mattsons and not face any repercussions, telling Chris at the end, "I'm the police! You have to do what I say!" And you just have to hate that smug smile he gives Chris right before then when the cops show up and it looks like Chris is threatening him even though we know he was trying to gun them down a few seconds before. Fortunately, some of these particular cops don't care who he is, with one telling him, "I don't care if you're the Pope, asshole! Do not move any further," when he tries to use the fact that he's a cop too in order to weasel out of the situation. As I described earlier, that ultimately doesn't save him at all this time around.

While it's not 100% flawless in its handling of this issue, with some aspects of it being layered on really thick, I think it's a nice that there's a movie like this that shows that racism and prejudice isn't restricted to whites. Maybe there are many other movies like this that I'm not aware of because this isn't the type of thing I go looking for but there are so many movies that talk about how white people are bastards to other ethnicities (from historical dramas like Amistad and 12 Years A Slave to even the biggest movie of all time, Avatar, which is a science fiction movie) that it's refreshing to see a movie that shows that the other ethnicities themselves aren't perfect either. I personally haven't experienced prejudice from other races in my life save for maybe a couple of minor incidents that I'm not even sure if that was the reason behind them, which is why I don't dwell on them, but I know that it happens and just like the horrible things that white people have done over the years, it shouldn't be swept under the rug and ignored. (This is as political as I'm going to get with this review: just as it's horrible for us to say the n-word, I think the same should be applied to African-Americans saying, "cracker" and "honky.") And I know that there are people who say that the character of Abel Turner was really over-the-top and unbelievable, especially when you get into the third act and because it's, well, Sam Motherfucking Jackson, but the thing is that this is loosely based on a real incident. I didn't even know that until I started this review but this real-life case was documented in a couple of local Pasadena newspapers, with one of the journalists getting an award for his coverage, and was also featured on an episode of Investigation Discovery's show Fear Thy Neighbor, which I have watched from time to time. Obviously, names and specific incidents were made up and they clarify at the end of the ending credits that what you've just seen is a work of fiction but, regardless, the same basic scenario of an African-American cop harassing an interracial couple living in his neighborhood did happen and, from what I've heard, what the real guy did was much worse than anything Abel does in the film. I still have to get around to watching that episode, which is why I'm not going into detail about it because I don't want to assume something that may not be true, but yeah, apparently Jackson's performance here isn't as unrealistic as you might think, proving that not only is truth stranger than fiction, it's also often more horrifying.

Lakeview Terrace isn't exactly an action-packed movie but it does have some scenes and setpieces that are worth talking about. At one point while Abel and Javier are out on patrol, they get a report of a disturbance going on nearby that may involve shots fired. When they arrive at the small, lower class apartment complex, they find a bunch of people outside waiting for them. A woman tells them that a guy is threatening his wife and kid in his apartment and a man says that he thinks he may have a gun. He points them to his apartment down in the corner and tells Abel that the man's name is Damon Richards. He and Javier then cautiously approach the apartment in the corner of the building, telling onlookers to get back in their own apartments, and as they approach room number seven, they can hear someone yelling like a madman and arguing with a woman. Abel knocks on the door and immediately gets yelled at, with Damon telling him to get away from his apartment. Abel tries to talk him down but he gets yelled at again but keeps talking, motioning for Javier to peek through the window on the door's left side. When he does, they both hear a rifle cock and Javier screams that Damon has a gun. The two of them manage to dodge a shot that blasts a big hole in the door and Abel then kicks it down. He finds Damon's wife trying to comfort her crying baby girl and then sees Damon himself climbing out a window in the back. Abel tries to stop him but Damon manages to reach the ground and head down the alleyway there. He takes off after Damon while Javier tries to calm down the hysterical wife, who's screaming for them not to hurt her husband. Gun drawn, Abel runs down some stairs and through a short corridor into the back of the apartment complex, peeking around a corner and then yelling for Damon to give up. That's when Damon runs out from his hiding spot and shoots out a light fixture on the ceiling of this section, with Abel quickly ducking out of the way. Abel resumes the chase, cornering Damon in a dead-end and yelling for him to put the gun down. Damon then sticks the barrel under his chin, threatening to kill himself if Abel comes closer. Abel then tries to talk the desperate man down, slowly approaching him and talking to him calmly, holstering his gun as he does so. Then, before Damon knows what happens, Abel grabs the rifle, cocks it, and tells him if he's going to kill himself, then do it. After threatening to "help" him do it, Abel jerks the gun out of Damon's hands and then hits him in the chest with the butt. He grabs Damon by his lower jaw, pulls him up, and makes him swear that he won't do something like this again and that he'll be a father to his child. He tells him, "If I have to come back here, I'm gonna be the one doing the shooting." Javier then shows up and he has him cuff Damon, while Abel tries to regain his composure.

One night at 3:00 in the morning, Chris and Lisa get woken up by loud music over at Abel's house and, after a bit of spat between them about this being something that he's willing to handle, Chris goes next door to get them to turn the music down. Predictably, he gets rebuffed at the front door and goes around through the back door, where he runs into Abel. He acts cordial enough, saying that they can now bury the hatchet and pours Chris a drink, explaining that it's a bachelor party for one of the cops, but he soon starts with the put-downs towards Chris and Lisa, telling his buddies that he's got, "a little dark meat over there," and they make the, "once you go black, you never go back" joke. Abel then leads Chris into the living room where some strippers wearing some cop-like outfits are starting to do their thing and the cop who's getting married is led in wearing handcuffs and is sat down in a chair for a lap dance. Chris just stands there and watches this for a bit, and truth be told, kind of looks like he's getting into it, when one of the strippers come up to him and begins shaking her butt at him. He tries to stop it right then and there but she pulls him into the room and begins dancing in front of him. Chris just goes with it for a bit but when he decides he's had enough and tries to walk away, Abel tells two cops not to let him get away and they shove him down onto the floor and hold him down. After a brief shot of Lisa waiting for Chris back at the house, the film cuts back to Abel's where Chris is still being held down and humiliated by the cops and the strippers, not realizing that the whole thing is being filmed. Eventually, Abel tells them to let Chris up and when they do so, he remarks, "Nice pair, huh, Chris? Little bit better than Lisa's, though, right?" Now thoroughly pissed off, Chris lunges at Abel but those two cops hold him back, with Javier adding, "You do not want to do that, believe me." Abel then tells them to throw Chris out, adding, "Say good night to the wife for me," when he's out the door. Chris is absolutely livid when he gets back home, searching for his camcorder so he record everything Abel does to try to get him fired and then angrily confronts Lisa with his belief that she didn't forget to take her pills. And the next day after Chris leaves for work, Lisa finds a DVD of the footage that one cop shot the previous night in her mailbox, which shows one of the strippers shaking her butt above Chris' head while he was being held down. When she watches it, she walks outside and she and Abel glare at each other for a few seconds.

Not too long after that fiasco, Chris has some small trees planted along the fence dividing his and Abel's houses. One afternoon when he and Lisa are having a talk about their future, they hear the sound of a chainsaw and when Chris looks, he sees Abel sawing the trees down through the fence. When he runs up to Abel and confronts him, he says that because they didn't ask his permission to plant them but because they're hanging over on his property, he doesn't need their permission to cut them down. He starts sawing again and when Lisa screams at him to shut the saw off, Abel tells Chris, "You wanna shut that lousy bitch of yours up?!", leading into a shouting match and Abel inviting Chris to come over into his yard and get busy. He throws one of the branches over on their side of the fence as Lisa continues yelling at him and when he asks Chris if he wants her to be the man now, the two of them begin jabbing at each other through the fence with the branches while continuing to taunt each other. After a little bit of that, Chris grabs a rake and begins shoving the handle through the fence at Abel, who retaliates by sparking his chainsaw against the bars. In the midst of this craziness, Lisa tries to make Chris stop but he shoves her away in order to continue it. Getting back up, she angrily asks him if he's lost his mind and runs back into the house. After another insult, Chris jabs at Abel again but when he keeps running his mouth, he decides it's not worth it and throws the rake down and heads into the house after Lisa, with Abel taunting him, "Run on in the house... pussy! Sugar-britches! Plant something else over there, see if I don't cut that down too!"

The film's third act progresses to where Chris and Lisa, as well as Abel, attend a barbecue at a house down the street while, unbeknownst to the former, Clarence sneaks around the back of their property and smashes through the glass of the back door to let himself in. Once inside, he calls Abel on his cellphone and gives him the go-ahead to begin ransacking the house. He first smashes a bunch of stuff in the kitchen and then walks over to the living room, continuing to smash everything he sees while ranting about Abel, saying to himself, "I ain't nobody's bitch, you prick." Back at the barbecue, Abel turns around in time to see Lisa head out the door. Realizing that he's in danger of being exposed, he walks out into the yard and calls Clarence. After Clarence urinates in one of their clothes drawers in the bedroom, he answers the phone and Abel warns him to get out because Lisa's on the way back. He tries to head down the stairs but Lisa comes in at that moment, forcing him to hide in a room on the other side of the hall. He watches her go into the bathroom that adjoins the bedroom and when he hears the water running, he decides to make a break for it. Unfortunately, Lisa hears him and comes out into the hallway, thinking that it's Chris. When she sees Clarence, he tells her to relax but she runs into the bedroom and hits the security alarm before he grabs her and flings her onto the bed. Abel and Chris both hear the alarm at the barbecue and Abel says he'll go check on it. Chris, however, panics and follows Abel out the door. Realizing that it is his house, he dashes up the road past Abel. While Clarence continues attacking Lisa, both Chris and Abel run for the house, the latter drawing his gun. Clarence yells at Lisa to calm him down (did he really think that work?) before picking her up and slamming her onto the edge of the bed, causing her to fall to the floor. Hearing Chris and Abel outside, Clarence runs for it while Abel manages to get ahead of Chris and tells him to stay outside while he goes through the door, gun drawn. Chris slowly follows him inside and yells for Lisa, while Abel sees Clarence run out the back door to the pool. He gets his attention and before Clarence can defend himself, Abel shoots him three times, causing him to fall into the pool. Chris comes into the doorway after hearing the gunshots and upon seeing what Abel did, heads upstairs looking for Lisa, followed by Abel. He finds Lisa on the floor and Abel calls for a squad car and an ambulance, telling Chris not to move Lisa but to just talk to her and keep her calm. While Chris is distracted, Abel heads down to the pool and searches Clarence's body for the phone but doesn't find it.

Once Lisa is released from the hospital, they head back to their home but come across a roadblock where an officer tells them that, with the wildfire possibly heading towards Lakeview, they'd better take what they can and evacuate. Meanwhile, after the police leaves Chris and Lisa's house, Abel sneaks around back to find the phone, calling it to make it easier to find. After he learns it's not outside near the pool, he heads inside. He doesn't get to look long before Chris and Lisa pull up and he has to duck back out. After the couple walk in and see the damage Clarence did, they head out by the pool and see that the fire is only a few miles away. Chris tells Lisa to go back inside and he talks to Abel, who's spraying down his house to make it more resistant to the fire, telling him that Clarence deserved to get shot and that he and Lisa are leaving. He heads back inside the house and while he and Lisa are packing upstairs, he slams a bag down onto the bed, causing Clarence's cellphone to slide out from underneath it. While Lisa goes downstairs, Chris, who now has a very terrifying feeling, opens the phone and hits redial on the last number that called. Sure enough, Abel answers the phone, horrifying Chris. Outside, when he doesn't get an answer, Abel knows exactly what happened and turns off the hose he was using. Seeing Chris look out the window with the phone, Abel puts his own phone away and pulls out his gun, with Chris squatting to the floor and turning off the lights. He runs downstairs to find Lisa while Abel walks over to the house.

Coming through the front door with both his gun and a flashlight, Abel attempts to lie his way out, telling Chris that Clarence had been threatening him and came to their house by mistake. He tries to go upstairs when Chris comes around the corner and smacks him on the head. The two of them grapple for the gun, with Abel shooting a couple of shots at the ceiling, before Chris manages to knock him to the floor, get him to stay down, and grab his gun. Holding Abel down with his foot, Chris calls Lisa in gives her the car keys, and tells her to drive down the road and get the police, explaining to her what's going on. When he's momentarily distracted by watching her leave, Abel manages to knock Chris down by swinging up and hitting him in the face with his nightstick. Grabbing his gun, he runs out the front door and shoots at Lisa as she drives down the road, hitting her back window and side mirror, causing her to panic and slam into a car parked on the side of the street. Chris then charges Abel from behind, knocks him to the ground, hits him in the back, forces the gun out of his hand, turns him over, and whacks him across the chin with its butt. He tries to get back up but Chris smacks him back down and runs over to help Lisa. Abel pulls out a spare gun and shoots at Chris, who gets behind the car to try to get Lisa out but the door is jammed. Abel shoots at Chris again, hitting one of the tail-lights, and begins walking towards them, saying that they can't get away. Chris then points his gun across the top of the car at Abel and it looks like the two of them are about to have a wild west-style showdown when the cops, having heard the shots, come peeling around the corner behind Chris. Abel quickly puts his gun in the back of his pants and puts his hands up, with Chris yelling in frustration when he realizes what the scene is going to look like to the cops, while Abel smiles evilly at him. The cops gets out of their cars and tell Chris to put down his gun but Chris tries to make them understand what's going on while Abel again tries to lie his way out of trouble, saying that Chris is unhinged over everything that's happened that day. Chris tells them he has a gun, which Abel denies and then tells the cops that he's one too. Lisa manages to get out of the car while Chris says he won't put his gun down unless Abel puts his down first. Lisa tries to talk Chris down before he gets shot and just when it looks like Abel is about to get away with everything, he tells Chris to listen to his wife, prompting him to bring up Abel's wife, saying maybe if he had listened to her, he would have seen the affair coming. As a helicopter hovers overhead, Chris keeps talking about Abel's wife, enraging him further and further until he snaps, pulls out his gun, and shoots Chris in the shoulder, prompting the cops to shoot him full of holes. The film then wraps up quickly, with Chris being taken to the hospital and with Lisa riding with him in the ambulance, both of them now able to look forward to having a family.

While it's not one of the best ever, I do enjoy the score for the film that was composed by Jeff and Mychael Danna. It's a very subtle and quiet one, never overwhelms the movie and accentuates the mood and tensions going on very well. The main theme that plays over the opening and ending credits is a soft, melancholy piece that I think gets across the idea that Abel's life hasn't been that easy lately and a lot of the other residents of Lakeview and the nearby city of L.A. are probably in a similar state. Its being reprised over the ending credits I think reiterates the notion of the bad stuff that's happened in this innocent-looking neighborhood and that it might truly never be the same again (it especially won't be the same for Abel's kids when they get back to find their father dead). The rest of the music is also subtle but effective, getting across the tension in a lot of the scenes and giving the sense that the situation is growing worse with each passing moment, often with the use of an eerie, echoing noise that sounds kind of like what you would hear on the creepiest segments of Unsolved Mysteries. Even the music you hear during the more fast-paced scenes, like when Chris and Abel rush to his house when Lisa is being attacked and the final confrontation between them, is pretty low-key and doesn't get in the way, which is nice. And given the film's subject matter, you hear a lot of rap on the soundtrack, which is not a style of music I'm a fan of but since it's not dwelt upon, save for that scene where Chris is listening to some in his car when he first meets Abel, it doesn't bug me as much as it could.

This is a rare instance where I do agree with what Roger Ebert said about a film: Lakeview Terrace is not a movie that everybody's going to be a fan of. Some will enjoy it and say it's a good thriller with a nice angle on a controversial subject; others will feel that Neil Labute, as usual, went overboard with the mean-spiritedness and his perceived general hatred of the human race, making the film's message hard to accept as a result; and some will feel that it's just kind of there and won't think anything else of it. I can really see people have those different reactions to it; for me personally, I think it's a very well-done film. I think the cast does well, I like the setting and the atmosphere, I feel it goes at a good pace and manages to remain interesting throughout, there are some memorable scenes and lines, the music score is nicely subtle, and, save for some aspects that I did think were too much, I'm glad that this film addresses the notion that racism isn't restricted to one specific ethnicity. Hopefully, I won't get too much flack from what I've said about the film because it's simply my honest opinion that it is a well-made flick and has become one of my favorite Samuel L. Jackson movies. And finally, in case you're wondering why I've broken my tradition of putting an image of the title as it appears in the actual film here, it's because I absolutely could not find an image of it, and I scoured image search engine after image search engine for it. It's not even a flashy title, just typical white lettering on a black screen, so it doesn't really matter but I hated having to break this tradition I've been doing for a long time now. The only other option would be to capture the image directly from the film but I'm technologically impaired and don't know how to do that at all. So, enjoy this image of the DVD cover, which isn't as effective as the poster to me.

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