September 25, 2008

REVIEW: Lakeview Terrace (B)

Lakeview Terrace is one of those films that brings together a “coalition of strange bedfellows”: Will Smith as producer, Neil LaBute as director, and Samuel L. Jackson (Jumper) and Patrick Wilson (Little Children) as lead actors; none of them have previously worked on a project together. Using deductive reasoning, then, we can assume that the common thread for their involvement was an attraction to the story by David Loughery, who’s been out of work since 1995 and is probably best known (if he’s known at all) for his screenplays for Star Trek V, Passenger 57, and Money Train. Or maybe Lakeview Terrace was just another offer Sam Jackson couldn't turn down.

Anyway, you have to hand it to Neil LaBute, Hollywood’s favorite misanthropic ex-playwright. After garnering critical acclaim and an armful of awards for his feature film debut, 1997’s In the Company of Men, the former Mormon has seen his successive films disappoint both critics and audiences, no more so evidently than with his disastrous remake of The Wicker Man two years ago. But he keeps on plugging away, and he makes no effort to tone down the “hard edge” that he’s developed over years of producing what most people would consider downright cruel material. LaBute is unbothered by such criticism: "I don't shy away from subjects that come to me - and once I decide to do a subject, I don't pull back - but I'm not consciously stirring the pot or ripping stories out of the headlines to create tension and thus shine the light on me."


Well considering I didn't even know he was behind Lakeview Terrace until I was at the theater, I would say he was successful in putting the issue of interracial marriage ahead of himself. However, the issue itself unfortunately gets lost in a snowballing build-up of standard thriller clich├ęs, leaving us with a film that falls significantly short of its grand ambition. The story, which focuses on L.A.P.D. officer Abel Turner's (Jackson) dangerously increasing discomfort with the interracial newlyweds next door, Chris and Lisa Mattson (Wilson and Kerry Washington of The Last King of Scotland), becomes a messy episode that strays from its meaty central theme as it becomes distracted with unnecessary forays into topics like child abuse, family planning, police corruption, single parenthood, and, with as much symbolic subtlety as a slap to the face, even California's notorious wildfires.


This is a tragic mistake because the themes Lakeview Terrace begins to address are urgently relevant in contemporary (and especially future) America, and previous films about interracial couples have done precious little justice to the issue, if they've even been seen at all. Spike Lee ruffled too many feathers with Jungle Fever, for example, while both Wes Anderson and Susanne Bier virtually ignored the subject in The Royal Tenenbaums and Things We Lost in the Fire, respectively. As such, Lakeview Terrace deserves some credit for at least attempting to initiate a discussion, and that counts for quite a lot. Additionally, I appreciated that the characters were believably written and ably played, particularly by Jackson and Wilson. Their actions may have at times been exaggerated or convenient to the story arc, but for the most part they existed as a people you may know or at least acknowledge exist in real life.

Sam Jackson creates a new definition for the term "housewarming"...

While Lakeview Terrace's effort at an important story doesn't quite make up for its lack of creativity in telling it, I would still consider it worth viewing. There are far more movies that are just as mediocre or even worse, but you'll likely find yourself thinking about Lakeview Terrace in hindsight more so than your average commercial blockbuster. Ultimately it's like much of Neil Labute's work: despite its flaws, it's not a story that can easily be tossed aside.

Grade:
Writing - 7
Acting - 9
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 4
Social Significance - 5

Total: 42/50= 84% = B

18 comments:

  1. The issue gets lost, but it still gets a social significance score of 5? Please esplain.

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  2. The social significance score has nothing to do with the quality of the movie or the success in effectively addressing the issue, but instead just what the issue is on paper. In my opinion (and remember these reviews are only my opinion) the themes in LT and Boy A, for example, are more important to society than those in Burn After Reading or Transsiberian (I'm just choosing from the last few reviews), no matter if the movie is actually "good" or not.

    I know it's not perfect, but that's par for the course for me!

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  3. Wow, it must be a thousand times better than the trailer, which is offensive to me as a potential movie-goer. Not because of the topic, I am offended that anyone would think that this trailer would make me want to go see this movie. Of course it is not all about me, as the $15M opening suggests. I've always liked how your grading system is able to reward the things a movie does well despite the overall aspect. After all, it is less interesting if your reviews were either simply, "good" or "bad". However, 5points of social significance should not be enough to save this movie. Jungle Fever came out 17 years ago, what new ground has Labute uncovered? It actually makes me angry that they would take a worth while social topic and turn it in to a cliched thiller. It just makes it that much easier to dismiss. I think you are soft on Sam Jackson too, who looks awful and I am shocked that this movie could receive 9/10 on acting. Where do you go from there? There is only 1 point to go up from this! It makes me feel as if the only acting performances I like would fall into the 10 category for you. That would mean...I don't know what his best role was...Pulp Fiction? gets one degree of seperation? and then that gets no seperation from the best acting period? Yikes.

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  4. Very fair questions. First, note that it's on the low end of a "B" and that I haven't outright recommended that it should be seen - just that I think it deals with something more relevant than Untraceable, for example. I haven't seen the trailer, but I can imagine it's probably ridiculous as usual. There are a lot of important conversations between Wilson and Jackson that probably didn't make their way into a standard action-packed trailer.

    I suppose it makes sense to criticize LaBute for doing nothing more than updating an old story, but I think interracial marriage in America is something that won't be so easily brushed under the rug in 5, 15, 25 years, and soon enough people won't be so easily able to dismiss it in real life, even if they dismiss it at the theater as was the case with LT (despite it's impressive win at the box office). In that sense at least, an old story is better than no story?

    The acting score - yes, this a contentious point, especially since I'll admit that Kerry Washington was mostly terrible. What I liked the most was those meetings between Wilson and Jackson. They were tense, uncomfortable, natural and realistic. Jackson keeps his maniac persona mostly under control here and I think it's a role more naturally suited to him than something like Jumper or (as we both know all too well) Resurrecting the Champ. If we can, let's also just forget that this ever happened. Ever.

    I would rate his best work as: Jungle Fever (coincidentally), Pulp Fiction, A Time to Kill, Jackie Brown, and Changing Lanes. I also heard he was good in Black Snake Moan but I missed it (although I unfortunately saw Snakes on a Plane).

    So sure, I would say this is probably the best I've seen him since Changing Lanes. Along with Wilson's performance, out comes an arguable 9/10.

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  5. I've never been a huge fan of Wilson, but this is the best I've seen him since ANGELS IN AMERICA, although the film itself is nowhere near that level.

    I agree, this was a wasted opportunity.

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  6. I came across an online community for individual seeking interracial love. It is ++++((((---Blackwhitemeet. C O M))))++++ All singles there are seeking interracial relationships. Interracial is not a problem here, but a great merit to cherish!

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  7. I'm pretty sure I've only seen him in Little Children, Matthew, as I didn't see Hard Candy. Anyway, he's 2/2 in my book.

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  8. Go and see Hard Candy now! It is so creepy, but it is so good, the acting (particularly of Ms. Page) is brilliant.

    I saw Lakeview back in August but I am not allowed to review it until October, but I can say that I dug Samuel’s performance and overall it was an okay film that I didn’t hate, so.

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  9. You know there's that one scene in Hard Candy that really isn't making me rush order the DVD...

    For better or for worse I'm sure I'll have to see it at some point as a pivotal movie for both Wilson and Page.

    I'll wait anxiously to hear your thoughts on LT, as it seems many people skipped it.

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  10. Nicky, don't you think that HARD CANDY might be a bit too harsh for our DANNY'S delicate sensibilities?

    Incidentally, Danny...

    You really can't see ANYTHING either during that "pivotal" scene or after. You can see so little (as a matter of fact) that it's very hard to ascertain just what the hell went on.

    I had to pay close attention from that point on. I wasn't positive as to what actually happened so I watched and listened closely until I did know.

    HARD CANDY is much more of a psychological thriller than anything else. It's similar to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. What you DON'T actually see contributes to your reaction and makes it grow more substantial in your mind.

    I thought it was brilliant. ELLEN PAGE is fantastic.

    But this is one of the more divisive films that you'll ever come across. You get some very extreme reactions from people because the subject matter is so incendiary.

    Obviously, no one with a functioning brain has anything positive to say about pedophiles or child abuse.

    But it is truly a hot button issue for some people. Everyone knows what their tolerance level is for controversial subjects like that.

    Best to weigh it out with a little serious info and find out whether you should seek it out or give it a miss.

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  11. LOL, I don’t know, I just think it is an electrifying, shocking, provocative, excellently acted film that focuses on one hell of a messed up story. I still think Ellen Page’s best performance is in that movie, so in that regard, it is worth checking out.
    But man oh man, I loved every sick and twisted second of it.

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  12. I'm with you all the way about HARD CANDY Nick, Ellen Page does indeed give her best performance in that film. It's such a disturbing, electrifying experience that went criminally underseen while it was in theaters.

    It's definitely worth checking out for Page alone (who I really think deserved an Oscar nomination). It's also strangely beautiful...the gorgeous digital photography and set design is rarely mentioned, but I loved the cold modernity of it all.

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  13. Thanks for those thoughts - you guys are freaking me out and making me want to see it at the same time...

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  14. Back to Lakeview Terrace...I didn't think it was a great movie, but it certainly had it's moments. I thought Samuel Jackson was great - you could just feel that he was having a good time playing this character, personified in his swagger and intense stare. I thought his diatribe at the party was brilliant.

    (Sorry, minor spoilers ahead.)

    However, there were many things that just didn't work for me on a whole. Specifically, the unneeded cause-effect justification for Abel's "problem" with interracial marriages, and the highly dramatized ending. (Ending-wise I was hoping for something a little more unique. Maybe something a little like the end of Halloween.)

    Regardless, I enjoyed the film, and enjoy Neil LaBute's intentional provocations. As a viewer, you are constantly questioning your allegiances either based on race or social moral code or both. It is no coincidence that Lakeview Terrace is the suburb where Rodney King was assaulted (which I only garnered from Scott Foundas review of the film.)

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  15. I was planning to take a pass on this one for a number of reasons, but your review here has convinced me otherwise, especially since it's playing at our local Edgewater multiplex. I'll fit it in later this week. And Dan I know just how hard it is to come out (at least partially) for a film that may not have received the best cumulative reviews, and then to be taken to task for it. It could be somewhat dispiriting. It happened with me with ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, THE FOUNTAIN, THE DUCHESS, etc.
    I know the same thing will happen with you with the Spike Lee film. I respect and admire you immensely for sticking to your guns and beating to your own drum.

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  16. Thanks for those thoughts, Kathie. I, too, think this was a well-suited role for Jackson, as I mentioned above. Get him out of the sci-fi space movies and back onto the street.

    I just assumed "Lakeview Terrace" was a generic name for the housing development, so I find it really interesting to learn of the King connection.

    Regarding Abel's issue, well I think I'm OK with it, as messy as it was. In order for it to work it would either have to have been that circumstance (about his past) or the fact that is just an out and out racist, which may have been interesting in its own way but might not have worked as well within the context of this particular story.

    Great points, and I was disappointed by the ending as well.

    Sam, you'll be disappointed by LT if you're expecting something amazing, but in terms of creepy neighbor thrillers, this one has an edge on the rest.

    I'm not going to champion St. Anna as a BP nominee or anything, but as I already mentioned at LiC, I'm more positive about it than negative and I fully expect to be in the minority on that one. I'll try to get my thoughts down within the the week. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  17. That's about three letter grades higher than I thought it would receive. The trailer makes it look extremely cookie-cutter but maybe the performances make up for that. It'll still be a DVD rental for me though.

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  18. Based on what I know about some of the movies you like, Scott, I think you might find LT interesting. Call it a not-so-good movie with good intentions.

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