Lakeview Terrace (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language and some drug references.
Length: 110 minutes
Grade: B+CBB+=B+
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $60 million (39 U.S., 5 Intl., 16 DVD)

Written by: David Loughery (Tom and Huck, Money Train, Passenger 57, Star Trek 5, Dreamscape) and Howard Korder (first significant screenplay)
Directed by: Neil LaBute (Wicker Man, Possession, Nurse Betty)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, and Kerry Washington.

When a biracial couple moves into their new home in suburban LA, increasingly unpleasant encounters with their black LAPD neighbor begin to take a very nasty turn.

Entertainment Value: B+
Samuel Jackson rarely disappoints, and even though he always makes me feel like I’m watching Keanu Reeves’ cousin or something, Patrick Wilson was good here as well. The key to this movie is that everything develops gradually and plausibly enough with sufficient ambiguity about just who is the bad guy for sure and whether he’s reacting appropriately or overreacting that it gives you enough room to enjoy the progression. Actually, this is a case where the ads probably ruined the movie because they make you too readily expect Jackson to be the bad guy from the start.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C, Language C, Illegality D
A husband and wife have sex in their pool. Strippers dance at a bachelor party. Language is at the very upper end of what will get PG-13. A man is shot. Police chase down a suspect, who threatens to kill himself. People are constantly drinking or getting drunk and smoking cigarettes is a theme. Police do questionable things, and a police officer is shown as a really bad guy. I’d say PG-15 is better than PG-13. This is an adult movie cleaned up just barely enough to not get rated R, although it would admittedly be on the light end of that rating.

Significant Content: B
Although I’m tempted to rank it higher. This is a movie about full-blown legalism in a police officer. People who are obsessed with rules have a tendency to destroy life and treat anyone who jeopardizes the moral order they want to create as evil and an enemy. Judgment and condemnation produce hatred. It’s very difficult to be a police and retain grace and mercy. It’s important to have good neighbors, or at least to not have bad ones.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
There is tremendous tension built here between characters who all have flaws and handle each others’ flaws poorly. In fact, in the beginning, it’s almost unclear whether Abel is even being particularly unreasonable in his reactions. Also, there’s just enough uncertainty here that you aren’t entirely sure how it’s going to end. I particularly loved how this movie showed that racism and race-based judgments can be as strong in blacks as in whites.

Discussion Questions:
~What is legalism? How is it relevant to this movie? In what ways does a difficult life encourage people to resort to strict control mechanisms in order to create and maintain a sense of order around them?
~Why is the name Abel given to Samuel Jackson’s character? What insights can you draw from the Biblical Abel here? Assuming it was intentional, what point is being made?
~Is the concept of good guys and bad guys Biblically defensible? How does Abel’s dividing of the world into good and bad guys lead him into trouble?
~Abel is obsessed with grammar. Is this a good thing or not? What are the dangers of good grammar? Of bad grammar?
~Why does Chris like to listen to rap music? Why does he smoke? What is the movie trying to tell you about him?
~Who in this movie is racist? In what ways? How many of the differences in values between Chris, Abel, and Lisa’s dad are reducible to race? Why does Abel seem bothered by Chris’s music and the fact that he married a black woman? Is it rational for a black man to want to be treated as an equal and yet also not allow whites to participate in black culture?
~Which of Abel’s choices seem reasonable and which seem irrational? To what degree are Chris and/or Lisa responsible for being bad neighbors themselves.
~At what point in this movie would it have made sense for Chris and Lisa to move? How do you respond when her father suggests exactly this course of action?
~What are Chris’s control mechanisms? Why is he so reluctant to have a baby?
~How important are neighbors in deciding where to live? Given their importance, would it make sense to interview or “date” your prospective neighbors before buying a home? What about the possibility that they will move? Why are our real estate laws designed to discourage us from considering our neighbors when we buy our homes?
~When Lisa’s dad asks Chris how he will protect his family, is that a reasonable or fair question?
~What does this movie have to say about suspicion? What is the Biblical antidote to suspicion? What do Chris's suspicion reveal about him?
~Does this movie affect your view of police officers? Should movies that disparage cops be made?
~How much of the difficulty Chris and Lisa have in handling this situation comes from them likely never having lived under oppression or in disadvantageous circumstances where they were powerless to fix the problems? How does this make them naively self-righteous? Compare their reactions to someone who refuses to avoid a collision because he has the right of way.
Overall Grade: B+
Interesting. A provocative racial cop drama mystery thriller type movie.

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