Sunday, December 14, 2008

LAKEVIEW TERRACE - Neil LaBute drops the ball

It begins as a brilliantly nuanced, slow-burning thriller. Kerry Washington and Patrick Wilson play a mixed race couple who move into a house next door to Samuel L Jackson's racist cop. He objects to their mixed-race marriage but writer/director Neil LaBute is careful to make it hard for us to judge him. Maybe the cop is simply being admirably honest.  After all, the couple both admit to difficulties with each other's families - the forced declarations of how much his family love her - her father quizzing him on how he'll keep their mixed-race children safe.  Their families are politically correct on the surface but racist underneath. Maybe outright condemnation is the most honest response? And isn't the racist cop right to object to the couple having sex in their pool where his kids can see them? Isn't he right to object to the husband throwing his fag ends into his yard?

The tension builds. The racist cop is clearly going after the couple. The husband responds by being cowardly and childishly aggressive by turns. The wife gets pregnant accidentally on purpose and then gets mad when her husband isn't ecstatic. All is not well. 

The problem is that Neil LaBute takes the easy way out. Just like the wildfires that are encroaching upon their houses, the movie ends in a conflagration. The racist cop is given a convenient prosaic excuse for his racism that has nothing to do with racism at all, really, and the couple get a convenient reconciliation. It's all just too neat and too ad hominem. I wanted LaBute to tell us something about the reality of mixed-race relationships. Instead he exploited a hot-button social issue as an unusual backdrop to a rather mundane thriller with a lollipop ending.

I loved IN THE COMPANY OF MEN. But recently I've found Neil LaBute's work to be rather lazy. In his recent London play FAT PIG and again in LAKEVIEW TERRACE he flirts with big social issues and then collapses into easy solutions. Poor show.

LAKEVIEW TERRACE was released earlier this year in the US, Canada, France, Argentina, Russia, Sweden, Venezuela, the Philippines, Singapore, Italy, Spain, Egypt, Denmark, Mexico, Romania and Greece. It is currently on release in the UK and opens next week in Belgium. It opens on December 18th in Germany and Portugal and opens in Australia on January 29th.

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