As Printed in The Lumberjack
by Gary Sundt
Lakeview Terrace is a lackluster film about very real topics. Samuel Jackson plays Abel Turner, a conservative police officer who has some real hatred for white people (and possibly anyone that isn’t Abel). Accordingly, he finds himself stuck with an interracial couple as his new neighbors. The couple is deeply in love, has sex in their new pool such that all the neighbors (including his children) can see, and is made up of a white man and a black woman. What is a bigoted police officer to do? What would you do if all your morals were questioned? Wage ware with your neighbors, that’s what.
I take this stance because the movie doesn’t have one, and most everyone else is going to see it differently. But I want to find a way to sympathize with Abel Turner and his plight of intolerance. I mean, his male neighbor, Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson) is just so damn… white. And his wife Lisa (Kerry Washington) is just so damn…sexy. I mean, WTF man? Seems reasonable to shine porch lights into their window, watch everything they do and use ignorant platitudes to intimidate them. When those actions don’t yield the desired effect, best to take it up a notch on the crazy-neighbor scale.
Of course I’m looking at this all wrong. Abel is the bad guy and the couple is the victims. It’s like a horror movie where the couple has sex and then they have to be chased and murdered (attempted, anyway). Jason Voorhees is wearing a Mace Windu mask. The film begs the question, “Which is more racist: to have a black villain or a white villain?” The movie has this question knocking at the door, but I don’t feel much like answering. Not because I don’t like the topic, but because I don’t feel this film has earned my thoughts on the matter.
Lakeview Terrace is a remarkably manipulative film. It has its inherent controversy, and wants to push the envelope just enough to make you a little queasy. Director Neil LaBute, who loves making movies about mean people, takes a very real joy in making his audience uncomfortable with every scene. You leave the theater feeling dirty, which wouldn’t be so bad if the movie were good.
For instance, take practically every line of dialogue that comes out of Jackson’s mouth. His character says things that are so overtly ignorant that no modern-thinking person could stop themselves from being offended. But curiously, we aren’t all that offended because most of these statements ring false.
These boorish pieces of dialogue are lines tailor-made for a trailer. This sentiment goes for almost every interaction in the film. At no point is Lakeview Terrace unmarketable, because of how its shot, how its written and how its edited. The advertisers could have taken almost any moment in Jackson’s performance and built the marketing campaign around it.
At one point, Chris asks Abel, “Can’t we all just get along?” I think that could have been a profound question 30 years ago. Today, with our ever-flattening world, it sounds trite. I felt the same way, to a lesser degree, when the ending came to the 2006’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Crash. It’s this very Hollywood creation, where playing it safe while pulling at the heart-strings will encourage the intended reaction from the audience. There are movies that pull this off well in regards to race issues, like American History X or Do the Right Thing. But they succeed by treating the audience like adults, presenting the issues and letting us make up our minds (even if they are subtly pointing us in the right direction).
Hattie McDaniel, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Gone With the Wind, once said, “Hell, I’d rather play a maid than be one.” While this may be an appropriate sentiment for a black woman in the 1940s, films themselves should never function in this way. Unfortunately, we find that movies on controversial topics are still being made with that same logic. Films like Lakeview Terrace bother me because they have the potential to say something. But I guess it’s easier to play the hard-hitting film than be it.
Note: The film’s title, Lakeview Terrace, works both as the name of the character’s neighborhood and as a reference to the neighborhood where Rodney King was arrested and beaten. After the film, I felt this reference was rather hollow, considering the film had very little to say.