Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Screen Gems makes "Lakeview Terrace" as an "American foreign film" stylish thriller

Late in 2008 Sony Screen Gems (with Overbrook Entertainment) released it’s quasi-indie drama “Lakeview Terrace”, directed by Neil LaBute, story by David Loughery, about a racist African American cop Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) who torments a mixed-race couple next door, the Matsons, played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington.

The movie sets up tension slowly, and somewhat recalls the dialogue writing techniques of “Crash”. In a series of confrontations, words and short phrases come out very skillfully, always just escaping an explosive flash point. In other sense the film recalls an earlier Screen Gems film, “Arlington Road”, where the neighbor may be a terrorist.

There’s a really interesting middle section conversation between Chris Mattson and Lisa’s attorney father, where the father asks him if he intends to have children with Lisa, and how he will “protect” them. In other contexts, the question would be offensive, but here it simply slams the solar plexus.

Wilson is that competent white male who is always being tested, much like a similar character in New Line’s “Little Children”. Chris (that is, Wilson) goes investigating like a tom cat, and winds up at Abel’s wild party, where he is pinned and thrown out. Then his reaction to record, Frost style, and get Abel fired.

There are some backstories in the dialogue. We learn what bothers Abel (there is some parallelism) and it seems that the Mattson’s are a “plant”.

In the meantime the Santa Anna wildfires approach, and it’s not hard to guess where the film is headed. Well, it is. There are a couple of shocking twists just as the smoke pours in, enough to make anyone wary of being himself too much. The burglary scene is particularly shocking.

I don’t know if I’d want to live there. I think I prefer a four-season climate, with some rain and snow. Wildfires are the worst.

This film, in the end, is a shocking indie thriller, even if most of it is quiet drama and suggestive buildup. It is like an American “foreign film”.

Picture: Virginia's Shenandoah Park in a very dry early October (2007)

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