A fire is coming: And believe me, Lakeview Terrace’s occupants couldn’t be paired with a more fitting natural catastrophe. In what should turn out to be 110 minutes of the most compact, intense, warming, fearful, bewildered and uncomfortable of your viewing time this year, I can’t count on both hands and feet how many times I squirmed and shifted in my seat. I sat back relaxed by large yards with trimmed emerald lawns and swimming pools, just before sparks flew. I shuffled to one side and gripped the arm-rest as eyes hungrily spied new neighbours and the heat rose. And I chuckled at the most Sahara-dry, humour (or was it) I’ve been witness to for some time, just prior to the swift spread and potentially critical backdraft.
Dropping the metaphors, what this all means is that Lakeview Terrace is a fine, fine film, but what’s special is there’s no magic keystone supporting the whole. It’s nothing but a team event, where all aspects of the production pull triumphantly towards a finish line ever-obscured by nearing smoke and evermore frantic and gripping events.
The stellar casting of the film’s formidable trio undoubtedly lubricates some fairly essential gears here. Abel Turner (Jackson) is a man you might first believe an embittered and unreasonable character, an old-school LAPD cop altered by his life’s experience. The racism is inescapable here, but you might well be right. Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) are the charming, new, interracial couple slowly unravelled and stressed almost to breaking point as events unfold, rising from petty through criminal to downright dangerous. All three, from the moment they come into contact on screen, grow eminently watchable, with increasingly uncomfortable relationships, justifying any viewer’s people-watching interest, and are backed by a cast, intensely believable as relatives, co-workers and near-neighbours.
Of course, the story of David Loughery, proud man that he must be at the real-world sheen of his imaginations, deserves some praise. His plot twists and turns are the fuel for these actors’ engines. Further, the picture-perfect ‘planned community’ of Walnut, California, so happy to open the door when Production Designer Burton Jones and his team asked residents, ‘Hi, we know you have a pool in the back of your house. Can we look at it?’ shouldn’t be anything less than proud at their homes adding an essential and deceptively ‘neighbourly’ base, pinning the story to the plausible.
And perhaps this is the crux. The events as they unfold in Lakeview Terrace are such that events much like them might reasonably (and probably have, do and will) unfold at any given time in Random Road, Some Street or Every Estate, Ourtown. Further, while this universalism cannot be lost on anyone, some may find one or two of the glut of feelings experienced throughout long covered. Director Neil Labute would be as brilliantly responsible for that as he is for this reviewer’s relentless fidgeting, as subsequent scenes brought emotions rapidly to life – certainly welling up has never before followed engrossing attention so quickly.
However, it’s because of it all that Lakeview Terrace is a simply superb offering that, no doubt in my mind, will fully absorb anyone who gives it the running time, and then proceed to question those that do. There’s just one problem: Come 2018 or 2028, I can’t honestly believe that the title, one I remember as “it’s Lakeview not Riverview”, will be held high enough above others of this decade. It certainly deserves to, but the name is so regular and everyday, it will surely fail to stand out. It’s just too normal; it could be set anywhere and focused on anyone. Wait a minute.