At one end of his career, Neil LaBute was an up-and-coming talent to be reckoned with. He earned a reputation as intelligent Mamet-like artist of uncompromising vision with movies like In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors, harsh, cynical films that looked under the rock of humanity and found icky, squirmy things. At the other end, there's The Wicker Man, a genuine, "what was he thinking?" movie, and the curious dud The Shape of Things, which couldn't quite reconcile LaBute's stage hat with his cinema hat. In the middle we have Nurse Betty and Possession, two exceptional Hollywood entertainments with gleaming surfaces and dark souls. As with David Gordon Green and his delightful, mainstream comedy Pineapple Express, this type of "compromise" may represent LaBute's real calling.
With his seventh feature Lakeview Terrace, LaBute has once again managed to take a surface thriller and use it to work through some of humanity's ugliest and most hateful issues. It begins with a picture of suburbia, USA. Single father Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) struggles to get his kids up in the morning and off to school, but struggles even harder in relating to them. He knows how to boss them around, but doesn't understand them. (He makes his son change basketball jerseys to reflect "their" favorite team.) Later, he peers out the window and watches the new neighbors move in. He's clearly perturbed that it's a clean-cut white guy, Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson), married to a beautiful black girl, Lisa (Kerry Washington). We eventually learn that he has his reasons, his own emotional wounds, to explain why and how his buttons have been pushed, but it launches an all-out battle of wills.