“Welcome to the neighborhood”

Alright, so that’s not exactly the welcome the Mattsons received when moving into Lakeview Terrace, but with Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) as a bigoted next door neighbor who has an interracial yuppie couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) move in next door, it’s easy to see where it’s headed even before the movie really gets going.  From the first time Abel mistakes Chris for a member of the moving crew to the shady look he gives him as he kisses his wife, to reminding the rap-loving Chris that he’ll always be white to… well, you get the idea.  Abel, to put it mildly, doesn’t like Chris or the thought of his interracial marriage, nor does the fact that he is a cigarette-smoking, liberal, college educated, Prius-driving, white collar worker really help his case with the blue collar, traditional and strict-as hell-Abel.  It is this racial/cultural conflict that drives Abel to start harassing Chris and his wife before they even have a chance to unpack.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that subtlety is director Neil LaBute’s strong suit and for about the first half of the movie, we’re reminded over… and over… and over again that this is a movie conflicting black and white, conservative and liberal (almost uncomfortably so at points) and most memorably during a house-warming party that was anything but.  What might’ve been a subtle but powerful theme of  racial/cultural differences and the ongoing challenge of interracial marriage is instead vastly overblown to the brink of absurdity and past, losing any point it was trying to make in the process.  By the time Lakeview Terrace started picking up steam, it actually caught me by surprise, as I had resigned myself to the latter issues for some time.

Truth be told, once it got going, it became a pretty entertaining movie.  Samuel L. has proven quite capable of carrying mediocre material into the decent category, and this was no exception.  As the narrow-minded, twisted, and utterly out-of-control Abel, Jackson easily convinces you of the instability that makes him such an intriguing villain, as I was never sure where his limits lied (if anywhere).  It was clear throughout that no aspect of his life was under control, be it was work, family or community.  The same was eventually made true of the Mattsons; what started off as a peaceful new beginning for them quickly spiraled out of control along the same lines, much thanks to Abel’s meddling in their lives.  While it created the chaos necessary to build to a climax, it also made the entire movie feel bleak, as though even if everything resolved in the end, only the utter wreckage of once-happy lives would remain.

While Jackson is strong, and Wilson and Washington both play their parts well enough to convince, the tension that was built throughout the entire movie doesn’t boil over as successfully as was intended, even if they blatantly tried to put an incoming wildfire climax to convince us otherwise.  Oftentimes during the concluding scenes, I found the suspense and anxiety less than convincing and despite my best efforts to be on the edge of my seat, it just wasn’t happening this time.  Lakeview Terrace certainly had its moments but the true great thrillers maintain the same edge throughout; here, it was found only in spurts.  Entertaining, to be sure, but what seemed like a promising premise and cast just wasn’t executed at anywhere above an average level for the drama.

For some racially charged moments, entertainment and some mild thrills, Lakeview Terrace delivers, but don’t expect anything incredible from the latest in a long line of B movie thrillers.

3 / 5 stars

Ludivine Sagnier entered the American public consciousness with Swimming Pool. Then she took us through a musical threesome in Love Songs.  Now she plays an innocent weather-girl caught in the middle of love and money in A Girl Cut in Two. This is a story about a naïve girl that falls for an older man, an author named Charles Saint-Denis (François Berléand).  However, after the man that she believes to be the love of her life breaks down her innocence, their relationship ends very badly.  Lost in a fog of confusion, she goes back to a young and demented heir to a pharmaceutical company, Paul Gaudens, (Benoît Magimel) she had been courting earlier, little knowing the descent into madness that step will take.

A Girl has been advertised as a dark comedy, and there are some comedic moments, but on a whole this movie is more powerful in the insanity of it all, rather than the dry wit contained in some of the zingers the characters throw at each other.  One thing that I really liked was the performances by the lead actors in this film. The pacing might have been slightly off, and the jokes occasionally missed, but the actors were on top of their game. Magimel’s portrayal as Gaudens, a young millionaire (who was also a mentally disturbed mama’s boy), was spectacular.  There were little tics he had, like covering his mouth, that really brought his character to life. So when he spoke of his jealousy, I could really feel it. Sagnier also did remarkably well, from her early wide-eyed performance in the scene when she met Saint-Denis, to her calculated decision to take on her previously rebuffed young man; her character arc is the biggest in the film.  The director does a good job making her the focus since it is pretty hard to like any of the other male leads. But in order to regain the viewer’s trust, she loses her naiveté and starts to fight for her own rights, which begins the climax of the story.

If there was one big thing wrong with A Girl, it was that the film’s pacing was a bit too meandering at times. In fact, it was pretty slow, even for a dialogue-driven film. And the film also used a technique where the viewer would know what’s happening, but one of the characters didn’t.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it brought interaction between the film and the audience, but it was a little frustrating because it took some of the edge off the film’s few comedic moments.

A Girl Cut In Two is a good flick. I’d give it a pretty strong recommendation for some change-of-pace viewing or if you are in the mood for a slightly comedic thriller.

3 / 5 stars