There goes the neighbourhood…
While I was renting, I lived in many and varied accommodation throughout our fair isle. Along the way I have never been fortunate enough to have no neighbours to speak of and have, as a result, come into contact with lots of personalities and experienced some encounters I’d rather forget. Without going into too many details, I’ve had neighbours stink the entire block of apartments out with a gas leak, excruciatingly loud neighbours, particularly loved up (and loud) neighbours, and neighbours that shout at you just because you’ve accidentally thrown a tennis ball into their garden (I was very young with that last one).
What I’ve never had, however, is a racist, bigoted, self-righteous neighbour who hated me so much that he’d go to any lengths – largely illegal – to get me out of there. Good job I never moved to Lakeview Terrace then.
Directed by Neil LaBute, Lakeview Terrace begins as loved-up couple Chris and Lisa move into the wealthy LA neighbourhood, courtesy of financial help from Lisa’s father. She’s excited by the prospect of the pair putting some roots down and starting a family. Chris is less keen, too eager to hang on to his bad habits – albeit secretly. Smoking in the car and listening to loud hip-hop music before greeting his wife is his own personal domain, his way of escaping from all the pressures of the world.
And what pressures they are, at least in his eyes. Being half of a mixed-race relationship isn’t as easy for him as it is for her and the pressure is taking its toll. Shame then that they’ve moved right next door to Abel Turner, the aforementioned neighbour at the centre of this intriguing film.
Abel, you see, is one heck of a bigot. He also happens to be a police officer – a dodgy, dishonest police officer, but an officer nonetheless. And herein lies the twist of the plot. Who do you complain to when the man at the centre of your problem is a member of the boys in blue? This is something Abel regularly reminds the pair of as matters slowly escalate throughout the film.
And boy do they escalate. It’s testament to the acting qualities of one of Hollywood’s finest that he ratchets up the tension so assuredly throughout the movie’s hour and three quarter runtime. What begins as supposedly light-hearted banter with Chris gradually presents itself as so much more in a series of well-directed and carefully paced encounters. When Abel taps on Chris’ car window, pretending to be a carjacker to teach him a lesson in having his wits about him, it’s an awkward yet ultimately non-aggressive exchange. Towards the end of the film, Abel has set up a burglary upon his neighbour’s house through one of his more nefarious contacts and it has become very clear just how far he is willing to go to get his own way.
Abel’s reasons for the pure hatred flowing through his veins are never fully developed, safe for the break-up of his marriage and the obvious pressures of the job. Policing LA’s streets is presented as a harsh, unforgiving task in a series of scenes dotted throughout the film but it would have been nice for the film to delve a little deeper into his psyche. In fact, the only time this really happens is in a slightly unbelievable sequence in a bar when he and Chris share a drink and Abel lets loose his woes. Considering all the hassles and heartbreak they’ve been put through, it’s difficult to believe that Chris would share a drink with his neighbour.
This suspension of disbelief is an argument that could be laid against the film in general. The couple put up with so much over the course of the movie that you can’t help but feel that anyone else would have either moved out or taken things further with the relevant authorities. Sure, Abel is a cop but he’s a bent one and while he’s quite high up in the LAPD pecking order, he’s not at the top of the tree.
Add to that a poor ending – LaBute takes the terrorising too far, apparently for the sake of a satisfactory Hollywood ending – and you do leave the film feeling a little short changed. Ironically though, that’s actually much to the film’s credit. For an hour and a half Samuel Jackson’s central performance, ably backed up by solid turns from Patrick Watson (Watchmen’s Dan Dreiberg) and Kerry Washington, and a sense of tension that is increasingly cranked up to quite unbearable levels at times, this is a gripping, way above average thriller.
The included extras are better than most with three short but decent featurettes with comments from all the key cast members, a pretty good commentary from LaBute and Washington and a selection of deleted scenes, largely filling in the gaps regarding the working lives of Chris and Lisa. The deleted scenes also come with commentaries from LaBute with the darkest of the lot being a sinister altercation between Abel and Lisa that, while intriguing, was best left out of the film.