***/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras A
starring Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Jay Hernandez
screenplay by David Loughery and Howard Korder
directed by Neil LaBute
by Walter Chaw It's wrong to say that Neil LaBute's Lakeview Terrace, despite its literal miscegenation subplot and the openness of its main character's intolerance, is about race and racism in a year that's already seen its fair share of the renewal of the race conversation in the United States, both in and out of the cineplex. Because it's a LaBute picture, closer to the truth that Lakeview Terrace is a film about misanthropy--that no matter the cloth, the uniform is the general shittiness with which we treat each other--and, more, how easily we shed the raiments of civilization when confronted with the brute, caveman essence of competing for sex. It's not as scabrous as LaBute's early work, but I wonder if that isn't a function in part of the spirit of a year that found miscegenation as a secondary conceit of the mainstream's Fourth of July tentpole flick, Hancock. The twist in Lakeview Terrace is that the bigot front and centre is a black man (named after Biblical Abel, no less) and that it's all been genre-mixed in the cop-gone-rogue, Internal Affairs/Unlawful Entry tradition, speaking ultimately to the distinct '70s feeling of paranoia towards authority that's resurfaced in films of the last eight Bush years while trying, with some success, to refocus racism into generalized rage, confusion, frustration, and intolerance. After seven years of examining the lines against which society coalesces when the world falls down, here's a film about the tenuous handshake that tenants of the new world order have with the re-gelling of society. In a lot of ways, Lakeview Terrace belongs in a conversation about the recent spate of flicks concerning war veterans returning from the front (like The Lucky Ones, or Home of the Brave (also starring Samuel L. Jackson)) of an unpopular war broken, angry, and unfit for the hypocrisy of peaceful coexistence.
Chris and Lisa (Patrick Wilson & Kerry Washington) move into the tony titular neighbourhood, next door to veteran LAPD flatfoot Abel (Samuel L. Jackson, in full motherfucker mode), where they proceed to royally piss off Officer Abel first by being interracially in love and then with a series of little offenses that Abel misperceives as attempts to corrupt his two children. Abel makes an ass of himself at a garden party, installs security lights that shine into Chris and Lisa's bedroom, and generally casts himself as the shark in the wading pool. A moment with Abel on the job suggests frustration with what might be a glass ceiling, then a possible explanation for his sociopathic tendencies rooted in the traumatic stress of being a foot soldier on the front lines of the social wars. When Abel tells a wayward young black father to man up and be a steward for his baby or have his motherfucking head blown off, there's something--not something subtle, but something nonetheless--fascinating about Lakeview Terrace's willingness to be a survey of the element of the race debate (the Bill Cosby voice of black reason, for instance, or the Barack Obama message of the same) that causes the most confusion and consternation among the ruling class. It does make you wonder what this film would be like if it were a Spike Lee joint. The picture slips once LaBute makes too explicit his thesis that the primary instigator is not race, but rather the rights to the reproductive potential of "our" women. I don't mind the message--I like the message, actually--but too much beating of that drum (enter authoritarian daddy figure Ron Glass) renders the film drawn out and one-note when, point of fact, this vein's particularly rich.
Lakeview Terrace is curiously stage-bound in the way of LaBute's other films. Find in that explanation for a wildfire metaphor that looms throughout the picture, coming to a head in a few surreal tableaux of Abel framed against a blood red sky. Again, not subtle, but there's an insane lack of self-consciousness in Lakeview Terrace that speaks well to the hysteria surrounding the issue of blacks regarding the most visible arm of their own culture as wayward and misguided. (See in that similarities to the distaste that thoughtful Christianity has for Popular Christianity--shit, that thoughtful anything has for Pop Christianity.) LaBute, by framing his Passion Play against artificial backdrops and using artificial actors speaking in missions and broadsides, has created something like a Nativity scene that throws into relief the ridiculousness, the hopelessness, of ever divining sense from the world when the world is defined by nonsense. With this picture, LaBute's second straight genre-leaning work after The Wicker Man remake, there is increasingly the sense that for good or for bad, LaBute is ever on-message. Whatever the package, Lakeview Terrace (and The Dark Knight, come to think of it) has something to say, and it intends for as broad an audience as possible to hear it. When a message worth conveying stays small and true no matter the escalation of representation around it, I'm not entirely sure that's a bad thing; and LaBute's message has consistently been that no matter the privileges society affords, we're all just bad monkeys in the end. We're at the mercy of Nature and the hardwiring that, no matter the kill switches we install, manages to flare to ugly life at any old, indelible provocation.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
As a Sony Pictures release on a technology they developed, one would have every right to expect a glorious Blu-ray presentation of Lakeview Terrace--and one would not be disappointed. The 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is brisk and colourful, with extraordinarily deep black levels and nary a hint of defect. Skin tones and textures are meticulous to the point of distraction (you can almost see the razor marks on Wilson's cheek) and grain is crisply preserved. It's all so good, in fact, that some of the CGI used for the forest fires in the third act suffers under the same HiDef microscope that gives credibility to the rest of the image. Equally impressive is the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio, which distributes background noises with volume and logic across the soundstage. Night sequences include crickets, day sequences have car horns and traffic noise; it's not showy, but it's immersive. Special features begin with a commentary track pairing LaBute with Washington that's chummy, conversational, and informative. Washington brings up issues of miscegenation raised in the picture and shows a surprising interest in the film as a class discussion. LaBute is able support (and more than likely the source of these social theories in the first place), and the two of them for the most part resist plot regurgitation and trainspotting. Good stuff.
"Welcome to Lakeview Terrace" (20 mins.) is a making-of featurette in which Jackson reveals that a good portion of screenwriter David Loughery's dialogue was re-written by LaBute. (In a nicely-phrased bit of praise, he says the playwright's words feel good in his mouth.) Not surprisingly, a good chunk of time is devoted to exalting Jackson's method as an actor, while little sidebars are given over to the stunt work, location shooting, and set design. "Deleted Scenes" (14 mins.) with optional LaBute commentary are, with the exception of a fairly hot intro-into-sex scene, essentially buffers and/or extended dialogue sequences LaBute generally explains away as impediments to the flow of the piece or redundant to the story. Whatever complaints it's possible to levy against him, a lack of concision isn't one of them. A Blu-ray reel and previews in 1080p for Passengers, Hancock, Hitch, The Pursuit of Happyness, "Damages" Season 1, xXx: State of the Union, and S.W.A.T. round out the platter. Originally published: April 7, 2009.