“Lakeview Terrace” (2008)
“Lakeview Terrace” is one of those movies that’s both fascinating and frustrating in just under two hours. The first hour is a fascinating, character driven story that asks some interesting questions while the last forty-eight minutes or so quickly descend into something less satisfying and a film that takes the easy way out rather than offering any real or substantial answers to the questions raised in the first half.
Abel Turner is a widower, father of two children and a veteran L.A police officer. Abel lives by a very strict code of conduct and is the type of person who sees right and wrong as absolutes. For Abel, there are no shades of gray, as clearly evidenced in early scenes when he insists upon a certain code of conduct and behavoir by his children and showing him out on patrol as a police officer. Abel lives in a nice neighborhood and is, at first pleased to see the house next door has sold and he has new neighbors.
Abel is clearly attracted to the young woman moving in next door, the newly married Lisa Mattheson. Abel assumes that her father is her husband upon first glancing at them only to be less than happy when he finds out that her husband is Chris and that Chris and Lisa are an interracial couple. Abel begins to harass the couple to show his displeasure in their being in the neighborhood–from refusing to move his flood light to not shine in their bedroom window to his refusal to allow his children to have anything to do with Chris and Lisa. Chris and Lisa try to reach out to Abel with varying degrees of failure. Abel comes to a party thrown by the couple and ends up aliennating the couple and their friends. Abel is suspected of coming onto their property and slashing the tires of Chris’ cars (the car is parked in the garage when this happens).
Abel follows an agenda of passive-agressive harassment of the two and it quickly becomes cleary Abel has some problem with the couple that extends far beyond just Chris and Lisa. Things aren’t helped with Chris and Lisa christen their outdoor pool where Abel’s two children can see what’s going on.
The early scenes show that Abel, who is African-American and played by Samuel L. Jackson, has a bias against white men. His reaction to Chris and his reaction to a suspect underline this, as does his interaction with other male characters of other backgrounds. It’s as this point that “Lakeview Terrace” raises some interesting questions for viewers to ponder, including how do you fight back against someone in power who has some kind of vendetta against you. Abel clearly relishes his authority, at one point daring Lisa to call the police, saying he knows everyone on duty.
And Abel’s moments aren’t exactly helping Chris and Lisa’s marriage, since it’s established early on that the two each have secrets. Chris hides his smoking from Lisa and Lisa hides that she’s stopped taking her birth control from Chris. If Abel is trying to break them up or get them to move, his plan could work, except the two seem to be too stubborn. Or not willing to lose a lot of money on the home investment. (A subplot of Lisa’s father wanting them to move back closer to her family goes largely unresolved, but does add some tension to the film).
So, where does it all go wrong?
Pretty much from the point we find out why Abel is so upset. After Chris finds out Lisa is expecting, despite their “agreeing” its not the right time to start a family, Abel and Chris share a drink in a bar. Abel reveals that three years ago, his wife was called in a car wreck with a white man driving. Apparently his wife wasn’t at her office or job, but instead somewhere she shouldn’t have been with the man. The implication is that she was having an affair or on her way to have an affair with this man. Abel can’t imagine any other reason she’d be with the man, in the area of town of the wreck at the time of day it occurred. Abel clearly has issues and is taking it out on Chris.
It’s at this point that some fascinating questions come up, such as was Abel this strict before the accident? And was what Abel assumed was going on really going on? Or was it his imagination? Or is it part of his world-view and his own racial bias that is clearly established in the first half of the film.
Unfortunately, none of these questions is really answered in the second half of the film. Abel is put on leave by the department over a lawsuit by a subject and slowly becomes more and more unwound. He goes so far as to hire a man to break into Chris and Lisa’s house, trash the place and encourage them to leave. It’s at this point the movie goes from one that is raising questions about racism to pretty much your standard pyscho thriller. Abel is desparate to cover his tracks and that leads to, well, pretty much the ending you’d expect. A subplot of California fires slowly threatening the homes comes into play here as their homes are threatened.
The final few minutes of the film are a bit over the top and overblown. As I said, from the time we find out why Abel is so upset, the film takes a dramatic turn from a fascinating, compelling thriller into the area of being little more than your standard crazy person is threatening us story. And the ending while it wraps things up in terms of eliminating the threat of Abel leaves far too many questions unanswered. There are no easy answers to the questions raised, but it might be nice to see the film at least make some effort toward addressing them, rather than sweeping them under the rug.
Also of interest are the deleted scenes, that actually add some depth to Abel’s obsession and highlight his attraction to Lisa. One in particular should have been left in, I think, if only because it helps add a different layer to the film. One that the film really needs in its final hour.
I’m not going to not recommend this movie, but I will say I recommend it with reservations. Don’t go in expecting a lot and you won’t be disappointed.