Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lakeview Terrace: Grade C

Lakeview Terrace (2008)
Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Patrick Wilson. Director Neil LaBute.

Wilson and Washington, an interracial young couple, move into a California suburb where their neighbor is LAPD cop Jackson and his two young children. Jackson seems to have a problem with interracial marriage and makes life difficult for the newcomers, without being overtly nasty. With a warm, broad, charming smile, he simply invites Wilson to live somewhere else where his values would be more accepted. The movie plucks the racial strings well and subtly, although I don’t know if anyone gives interracial marriage a second thought anymore, especially in California. It is portrayed as the cop's problem, not a larger social issue. Jackson’s harassment becomes increasingly overt until the movie finally ends in a gun battle. Sure, that could happen. It’s a shame the writers could not have done better than a Hollywood cliché.

Whenever I see a mentally disturbed character, I assume it is so a lazy or unskilled writer can avoid developing a proper characterization. It is obvious that the cop suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. Crazy characters are expected to act crazy for no reason, and sure enough, he is nuts and gets nuttier as the film goes on.

Despite the poor writing, Jackson gives a very attractive performance, full of humor and menace and a full range of emotions. Kerry Washington gives an impressive performance too, and being gorgeous doesn’t hurt either. She has a lot more potential than the few small but outstanding parts we’ve seen her in (like Idi Amin’s wife in The Last King of Scotland, and Ray Charles’ wife in Ray). Wilson plays his role convincingly, although he does not jump off the screen like the other two principals. He was supposed to be a plain, bland, suburban white guy, and his performance was bland and I kept thinking he was Kevin Costner. Maybe that was an achievement. Camera work was good, and sets captured perfectly aspirational middle class aesthetic squalor. Music was annoying. But at least there was no car chase.

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