Neil LaBute has built his portfolio breathing life into movies and stage plays about dysfunctional individuals (usually men) who have difficulty fitting into relationships and societal norms. His first offering, 1997’s In the Company of Men, earned him praise for his stark tale of two misogynist businessmen who conspire to romantically destroy a deaf woman, and is play “Bash: Latter Day Plays” earned him excommunication from the Church of Latter Day Saints for its unflattering portrayal of Mormons.
With Lakeview Terrace, LaBute opts for the unconventional exploration of black-on-white and black-on-black prejudice with uneven results. Jackson plays Abel Turner, a veteran Los Angeles cop and single parent struggling to raise his two young kids. Turner’s life has been scarred and ruptured by the death of his wife, who was killed in a car accident with her white lover while engaging in an affair – something that understandably has been festering in Turner’s craw for some time. When the purchasers of the house next door turn out to be a racially mixed couple, Turner begins transposing his hatred on them as proxies for his wife’s transgressions.
Initially Turner’s intimidating ways seem focused on bullying his new “liberal” neighbors into maintaining decorum and giving his kids a wide berth, but things soon progress into unstable territory as his years of being an alpha male with a gun and a badge begin to get the better of him. With each successful intimidation, Turner becomes emboldened to become a law unto himself. LaBute frames Turner’s exploits against the backdrop of an escalating brushfire in the neighboring hills, which serves as metaphor for Turner’s growing inner rage that threatens to consume the property and lives of everyone involved. LaBute’s execution has all the subtlety of a gun butt to the head, which may actually have been his intention, given how he likely figured the audience would be comprised of escapist, action-seeking types not generally known for reflecting upon humanity’s shortcomings.
Jackson does everything asked of him as he shows the progression of what at first seems to be a well-intentioned and loving parent, into an unbridled bully. The problem comes in the film’s final act as the story culminates in forced cacophony that pushes the boundary of believability over the edge. A small dose of well timed restraint would have transformed this movie from a semi-decent popcorn muncher into a more serious vehicle for reflection on human values and prejudices.
EXTRAS *** There's an audio commentary with director LaBute and co-star Kerry Washington, 8 deleted scenes, a 3 behind-the-scenes featurettes collectively called Welcome to Lakeview, and some trailers.