Lakeview Terrace
directed by Neil LaBute
(Sony, 2008)

Abel Turner is a very bad neighbor.

It's not because he's rude, although he is. It's not even because he's racist, although he is. Turner is a Los Angeles police officer who, whether on duty or at home, has a very strict view of how things should be done and an overblown sense of his own importance when it comes to making decisions for the people around him.

He might get away with it when he's bullying his children. But when a mixed-race couple moves in next door, he decides to push around the new neighbors. Let's see how well that works.

Turner is played with quite, almost affable menace by Samuel L. Jackson. And it's hard to imagine another actor -- De Niro, maybe -- packing so much anger and hate into a grin or a wave. His eyes promise violence. Every movement screams confidence and the complete self-assurance that he's right.

The new neighbors are Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) Mattson, a newlywed couple beyond excited to own their first home. Neither of them are pushovers, but they've never met anyone quite like Abel Turner.

The torments begin mildly. A fake parking ticket. Security lights that shine in the Mattsons' bedroom window. A mysterious vandal who cuts their central AC during a heat wave. But it builds from there, up to and including a scene where Abel and Chris are wielding a chainsaw and rake, respectively, at each other through the fence dividing their backyards. It would almost be funny if it wasn't for the look on Abel's face.

As psychological thrillers go, this one is pretty tense. But there are extra touches this movie doesn't need. For instance, it's entertaining to watch Turner drive a wedge between the happy couple; we don't need an unrelated pregnancy dispute to add more angst. The heat wave is enough to clue us in that tempers are short; we don't need a raging brush fire approaching the neighborhood to pound that message home. And the climax flies just a little over the top.

Otherwise, sit back and enjoy Jackson's performance -- and hope you never have a neighbor like Abel Turner.

review by
Tom Knapp

9 January 2010

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