An uneasy mix of competent thriller and iffy characterisation.
Moving home might be a stressful time, but if you happen to move next door to L.A.P.D cop Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) then it's only the beginning of your worries. At least, that's the case when young couple Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington respectively) pile in to Lakeview Terrace.
Chris almost immediately detects something confrontational in Abel's attitude towards them, in particular the sheer gall they have in being an interracial couple, and things quickly move from passive-agressive verbal barbs and silly games with floodlights into something far more dangerous. You've seen the trailer, right?
Which is actually one of the main problems I've got with this film, as the trailer sort of scuppers some of the final act. It's marketed damn near exclusively as a "crazy neighbours threatening each other" movie, although director Neil LaBute, known chiefly for attempting to take a more cerebral look at motivations and psychology (well, when he's not churning out trash like the Wicker Man remake and Nurse Betty) seems to want to take a better look at the characters involved.
Unfortunately the script doesn't want to agree, and for much of the first hour this swings around in tone as it mixes trying to look at single father Abel's undoubtedly difficult situation and show a few squabbles between Chris and Lisa. I assume that this is supposed to flesh out their characters a little more, but it's clear by the end of the film that it's of no relevance whatsoever to the narrative and little more than distractions.
This isn't fleshing characters out. It's gluing bits on to them in the hope that if you squint a bit in poor lighting conditions it looks like they've been fleshed out. While Chris and Lisa's interpersonal tribulations turn out to be merely irrelevant, Abel's are actually completely counterproductive. Attempting to explain the reasoning behind his starting this little grudge match ends up with him coming dangerously close to being a believable character at points, which makes his final act lunge into over the top, almost horror movie style villainy all the less believable.
Despite all of this, damned if it didn't sucker me into going along with at least the last forty minutes or so of it. While Washington and Wilson prove largely competent leads, of course the main reason that this film works at all is the endlessly watchable Sam Jackson. He may be playing a character that swings between 'reasonable' and 'Jules off Pulp Fiction' at more or less random, but for the most part it's fun to watch. Certainly more so than seeing Chris and Lisa fighting, scenes which drag on seemingly interminably.
My largest gripe with Lakeview Terrace is simply that for the stretches where it seems more concerned with being an out an out thriller, and building up tension between the neighbours it works very well. For the other half of the film where it's fiddling with character developments that are often completely excludable and don't really build up sympathy with anyone, it throws that tension away.
As a whole, it's far from unwatchable, but it does rather seem that the more obvious straight story rather than plodding sidetracks into racism issues would have made for a more enjoyable film. More complex doesn't necessarily mean better, and perhaps LaBute wasn't the best choice for this project. At any rate, this garners no more than a mild recommendation from this scrivener.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
Patrick Wilson (Chris Mattson)
Kerry Washington (Lisa Mattson)