The Burning Hills
Set against the smoke filled LA skies as wild fires cause destruction and taking the name of the area where Rodney King was beaten by L.A. police officers in 1991 as a fictitious location "Lakeview Terrace" sets up an interesting premise. It's interesting because we have a situation where Abel a racist cop takes exception to his new neighbours because Chris is white and Lisa is black and Abel does not like white guys. And for the first half almost two thirds of the movie it is good because it is all about Abel making Chris and Lisa's life a misery turning increasingly more evil with each attempt to make their lives hell. But like with so many movies as things get increasingly nasty they also spiral out of control which unfortunately causes the last third of "Lakeview Terrace" to become over the top. It is a shame as the set up and build up is good, even the reasoning to actions is good but the outcome is too Hollywood.
Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington - Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer) having just moved into their first home together find that they have Abel (Samuel L. Jackson - Jumper) a cop for a neighbour, a cop whose security lights shine brightly into their bedroom every night. When Chris goes to speak to Abel about it he feels uneasy as the suggestive way Abel keeps dropping the fact that Chris is white is threatening. And as Chris and Lisa grow to learn they have reason to be afraid as Abel makes it very clear he doesn't like them, especially Chris and is going to do what he likes to make their life a living hell.
So as already mentioned the first two thirds of "Lakeview Terrace" slowly builds up the drama as we learn that Abel has issues and watch as Chris discovers that he has issues with him. Watching Abel drop threatening remarks as they speak and manufacture opportunities to make Chris feel uncomfortable is both entertaining and unsettling. And whilst it is little surprise that Abel's campaign of hate causes tension between Chris and Lisa what happens as they argue is good.
Now this set up leads us to wonder what Abel's problem is, is he just a racist or has something driven him to be so anti white people. We certainly witness how hard he can be on anyone as he deals with criminals in a forceful way and it adds to that element of unease because we become aware that he is a dirty cop with IA on his case. When we discover why Abel is so anti white people it is good, it makes sense of his anger but even before that the movie makes sense because we also have the fact that Chris has the feeling of being unwelcome by his father-in-law.
Now with all this playing out to an increasingly smoke filled LA skyline as the wild fires starting burning their way across the hills to their homes you wonder where all this drama will lead as things are certainly escalating. But unfortunately after a decent first two thirds things spiral too far out of control and we get an ending which is too Hollywood. Basically after the gradual and clever build up we get a big moment of drama which whilst a crowd pleaser does not fit fully with the clever storyline. And it is a huge shame as a more original and intelligent ending would have kept "Lakeview Terrace" as an above average movie than just the average one it ends up.
Now it seems to me that "Lakeview Terrace" could have been written with Samuel L. Jackson in mind because his brand of righteous indignation is perfect for the part of Abel. From being the tough cop and authoritarian father Jackson creates this fearsome character but then we get the sense of evil as he almost jokes and toys with Chris as he drops subtle threats in their conversation. It ends up making "Lakeview Terrace" all about Jackson because whilst Patrick Wilson is good as the semi scared semi angry Chris he just can't compete with Jackson's fire and brimstone, the same with Kerry Washington as Lisa.
What this all boils down to is that after a good two thirds "Lakeview Terrace" becomes very ordinary because of an out of place Hollywood ending. And it is a shame as for the first two thirds watching Samuel L. Jackson as Abel toy with his neighbours and suggestively threaten them is chilling.