by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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Samuel L. Jackson plays the ultimate racist in his latest movie, and the fact that he’s a cop adds fuel to the fire, as he’s charged with serving and protecting other people, not harassing them, as he does to his new neighbors.
Abel Turner is his name, and it’s a while into the movie before I figure out just what’s rattling his cage. Abel is a meticulous single parent, raising his teen daughter and younger son, and everybody goes by the book or his rules in the household. The children are kept closely in line, are intensely corrected when they don’t use the “King’s English” and anxiously wait for the time they can spend with their late mother’s sister Aunt Dorrie, (Vanessa Bell Calloway).
The circumstances surrounding his wife’s death greatly explain Abel’s demeanor toward interracial couples, the latest of whom are his new neighbors, Chris and Lisa Mattson, played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington. The young couple scrimps and saves to buy a home in Lakeview Terrace, an area that I’ve read is in the San Fernando Valley of California. I’ve also read that this movie is loosely based on the life of a real cop, with similar issues around interracial relationships.
Jackson masters his role, shortly after he discovers that Lisa is married to a white guy and not the older, Black man who shows up first during the move in. Indiana-born Ron Glass (of old Barney Miller fame) is, in fact, Lisa’s father, Harold Perreau. But Abel isn’t the only one who seems to disapprove of the relationship. Chris can’t seem to catch a break, as the movie honestly examines issues of interracial relationships, and his father-in-law doesn’t care much for him, either. But their relationship is at least amicable.
Abel not only manipulates and scares the crap out of his neighbors, but in the end has them questioning their commitment, as they keep secrets from one another.
Abel’s 27 years on the police force only serve to give him support in his game playing; he’s a very bitter man, with nothing to look forward to but severely disciplining and raising his children in such a stern manner that you’d think he was dealing with the criminals on the street.
The movie is comprised of instance after instance of run-ins between Abel and the couple, Chris particularly. Abel, as protector of the development, has glaring flood lights on his property that shine right into the couple’s bedroom. His children spy on Chris and Lisa, as they are frolicking nearly naked in their pool; and Abel lectures the couple on indecency. He also gives Chris a tour of the neighborhood, with his service pistol close at hand on his hip.
Abel sets Chris up one evening, during a bachelor party at his house, which is teeming with cops and strippers. Abel tapes a session when a white stripper is ordered to pounce upon Chris and mails the DVD to Lisa. She’s livid and questions whether Chris loves her. The final straw is broken when Abel does one last devious deed and pays a thug to break into the couple’s home; with dreadful, deadly results.
It’s hard for me to just review this movie, based solely on its entertainment value, without adding a bit of social commentary. Of course, Jackson is thrilling to watch; and this Hollywood offering ended up the top movie the weekend it opened. I can’t help but wonder why, however, for the sake of race relations, Jackson gets to wreak havoc on his new neighbors, comethisclose to committing police brutality against a black guy involved in a domestic violence incident and slap the hell out of his teen daughter after she defiantly goes against his wishes and takes a dip in the neighbor’s pool—all in the name of thrilling entertainment? Intimidating, black cops are easily found in many urban neighborhoods, without me having to pay to see one on the big screen.
As I mentioned earlier, Jackson plays the role well; I just had difficulty accepting what I saw as him playing a self-hating Black man. But since it’s supposedly based on a true story, I won’t attempt to re-write history and must accept the events that play out in Lakeview Terrace.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a writer and film critic in Chicago.
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