It’s an OrdinaryAmerican movie (as opposed to a CostumedSuperHero movie) that provides compelling evidence that With Great Power and vested responsibility comes ample, sanctioned opportunity to totally Fuck. You. UP!
Both kinds of the mythic figures we celebrate in films deserve a great deal of thought and scrutiny, particularly OrdinaryAmericans, who are at least as whimsical and fabricated as ConstumedSuperHeroes. There are no Ordinary Americans. We’re all peculiar, idiosyncratic and constitutionally disinclined to unanimity; from person to person and from one moment to the next we’re eminently disagreeable, even with ourselves.
Samuel L. Jackson’s centerpiece character flipflops absolutely brilliantly between several sets of solid, plausible, whole identities; veteran top-cop, over-the-top-cop, martinet dad, neighborhood Watchman, maniac, wronged mastercriminal, self-fulfilling prophecy and utterly irRegular Guy. Someone should jack up the whole Academy while calling the Nice Police to make a polite, euphemistic report to the commissioner on the state of the art of empowering creeps and making them.
Black racism has never received the kind of attention it’s always deserved, and this film goes exactly there with amazingly layered grace, gyroscopic equilibrium and a taste for relentless shock that makes it a singularly interesting monster-movie about worst-nightmares that live right next door (to one another). An incredibly slow reveal of the matter/anti-matter spike in the punch.
Neither Training Day nor Hancock spent any effort in tilling the treasury of dark and abominable emotional explosives that Lakeview Terrace thoroughly ploughs. And it does so with a delicate sensitivity that Pacific Heights never found. (Specific Whites was a more eloquent name for that part of my home town.)
Abel Turner is an iconic monster whose deeply disciplined, compartmentalized life has been gradually and willfully, heroically pulled back from the brink of a disaster (he helped create)…until THEY move in, and the tidy compartment-dividers evaporate as polarized stuff in this guy’s several lives (that should never ever mix) is finally brought together under deceptively-high pressure with living wires and ancient resentments. When Abel falls, he indicts his brother, while staring us dead in our collective face.
A Slight Digression: Compartmentalized psychic activity tumbles out of the special features of Top Gun. It’s a way of visualizing the diversified competencies of elite Naval aviators, who tend to be renaissance men whose mortality and talents are designed so they don’t overlap. So Spielberg opens War of the Worlds by installing Maverick at the controls of a shipyard crane, seemingly illustrating a top gun’s fall from grace into the world of middle-aged failures. That association yanked my attention right out of the later film by telling me that Spielberg is far removed from my reality in which crane operators are the pay/responsibility pinnacle of industrial production, everywhere in the world except Hollywood. The cocky Cruise-control that Maverick exhibited twenty years ago has been replaced by a motorhead flake whose failed marriage, doomed kids and total control of his crane-cockpit is deeply Hollywood Surreal. It still strikes as a dumb fixation in the minds of the Spielberg entourage, but the MaverickToRay=failure illustration put an abrupt end to my confidence in the film scant minutes into the movie, which made it extremely easy to see, thereafter, that the war of the worlds was waged between human generations and the Martians were just for sex appeal. If I’d been Ray, Robbie would have been dead by the middle of the first reel, and Rachel was on the bubble. These thoughts about War of the Worlds came up while I read a cool interpretive treatment of that film at mstrmnd.com. Ending this digression now by pointing to the Martian tripods as though they carried cameras that targeted cameras.
I streamed Lakeview Terrace, so I’m looking forward to the strong possibility of a commentary track to guide my further adventures in branded entertainment. Not much credibility in studio logos, my brands are the names of writers, a few directors, and a limited number of onscreen interpreters of the ideas embedded in scripts: Gilroy, Dobbs, Whedon, Scott, Tykwer, Jackson, Hoffman…guys (I’m sorry to see what certainly appears to be gender-bias in me) like that.
THREE DAYS LATER: The DVD’s commentary track brings the director and lead actress forward to connect a few dots, like; Lakeview Terrace is the location in the San Fernando Valley where Rodney King played piñata for white, L.A. cops whose racebased, abusive brutality ignited black community violence (mostly against itself).
That “seeing is believing” is a stupid motto is driven home early in the film, when Abel notices unfamiliar people moving into the vacated home next to his. The black couple is slightly unusual in that the woman is considerably younger than her mate which probably raises the Turner hackles just as much as his powerlessness to screen the people who have just become his neighbors. AND Able’s inital perception is soon proven to be deeply incorrect (not unlike eyewitness testimony) as his continuous scrutiny of the moving-in process reveals that the hired hand, a young, white man, is accompanied by his wife and her immaculately dressed father, which modifies the application of The Golden Rule to these newcomers, for both Abel and for the audience. The shifting sands of context amplify the tension of making sense of details in the first few minutes of the film.
This introduction makes the very subtle point that Rodney King was not the world’s most sympathetic innocent brutalized by power-crazed maniacs for doing exactly nothing. The film procedes to make the points that appearances can decieve the “objective” viewer, objectivity is mostly a self-delusion, preconceptions condition perceptual processes to an extent that can render them profoundly influential, subjective, ruinous. These points apply to newsreel footage, eyewitness reportage and townhall meetings.
The success of this fascinating motion picture rests squarely on the mercurial talents of Samuel L. Jackson to confuse the preconceptions of his audience. The deleted scenes lost valuable information concerning the careers of the married couple, which actually serves to humanize them by connecting the husband to an ostensibly altruistic corporation (not unlike Google) which firmly belives that newage retail corporations and mom&pop cornerstores can cohabit like friendly next-door neighbors. The wife is trapped in an abusive relationship with her white, male philandering boss…a detail that sets the template for Abel’s confessional backstory in the friendly, neighborhood bar. Adversarial differences in class, race and outlook come forward in the confessional scene. They are not met with empathy, just that infinitely meaningless catchall abracadabra …”Whatever!”
The commentary and deleted scenes indicate that Will Smith, under other circumstances, might have taken Jackson’s role for himself. Smith’s production company held the rights to the script — which was subjected to revision all the way to theatrical release. Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson — I think Abel Turner was best-presented by the guy who took the role. I also think the the film’s director and all of the secondary characters were significantly less in contact with the heart of the material than the actor who made it a revelatory and revolutionary advance in the further adventures of our national inability to get along with one another.
What might the Mattsons, the black&white couple, have done to deflect the point of Able Turner’s wrath? Who might have prevented Iago from fabricating lethal conflict? Why is the IMDb audience, reflected in several reviews, down on the end of Lakeview Terrace simply because of an irresolute ending? I mean, that’s what Americans do, we move on to other topics without resolving anything, as though seeing were believing, as though problems go away the moment we stop watching them. Abel’s irrational resentment is better explained than Iago’s vendetta against Othello. These guys are not as rare as an optimistic view of humankind supposes, and films like Lakeview Terrace simply introduce the notion that catastrophic irrational resentment in the perfect, customized situation is lurking in every one of us in a nation that presumptuously thinks of itself as heroically “post-racist”. Maybe we’re all just cameras, targeting one another; mirroring whatever.