Review: Lakeview Terrace
Like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, Samuel L. Jackson taps into the disaffected middle class male prototype in the provocative Lakeview Terrace. Also based in southern California, also set to a series of suburban triggers—parenting, crime, natural disaster—this movie revolves around two men, both neighbors, and how they approach life.
With an overlay of racism, because the Jackson character taunts an interracial couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) that moves into the neighborhood, Lakeview Terrace itself grabs our attention with controversial flashpoints. But, deliberately or not, it prods us to look past what’s superficial at human behavior and, in particular, the choices of everyday people.
Jackson’s Los Angeles cop character, like Archie Bunker, sports a tough, racist exterior, but, like Archie, he also makes some sense and he’s not all bad. Conspiring to drive the beautiful young couple from next door, he apologizes, he buys the guy a drink, and he struggles to prevent them from harm.
Of course, without spoiling the plot, that’s only after he has caused the couple harm in the first place. This man is a real conservative; he seeks to repeat the patterns of the past because, well, he doesn’t know why. Instead of thinking, he represses his emotions, never questioning their source; he robotically imposes rules without checking the context and he strikes at anything he assumes is a threat to his distorted view of existence: a legal suspect, a child, his next-door neighbors.
What he doesn’t do is act like a man ought to act—not really—and this is what Lakeview Terrace is meant to express. His post-collegiate neighbor, played by Wilson, makes an effort to think and act in a rational way. The movie is concerned with the Wilson character’s journey toward one decisive moment.
Until then, the liberal white guy (a Prius driver, natch) acts like he ’s guilty, plodding sheepishly along, smoking cigarettes on the sly, flicking spent butts onto his neighbor’s property, acting like a freewheeling teen-ager—granting unearned goodwill to his nasty neighbor—and avoiding making a judgment. He keeps saying he’s proud to own a home without acting like a property owner.
His wife, portrayed by Kerry Washington, one of Hollywood’s best actresses, strikes a balance between rules and flexibility, though she, too, has a lot to learn in terms of taking personal responsibility. Together, the couple tries to navigate around the troublesome neighbor, his two adorable kids and the incessant pressures of living in L.A.
A step up from those Nanny/Neighbor-from-Hell movies of the Nineties, such as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Pacific Heights, Lakeview Terrace probes beneath the surface of each character, giving us plausible motives without sanctioning irrationality. You almost find yourself wanting everyone to unite and rally around the neighborhood when external danger engulfs the hillside homes—until you remember that people, including neighbors, are responsible for poor choices and must be held accountable.
With a trifecta of good performances, Lakeview Terrace ultimately delivers that taut, thoughtful lesson.