Let me tell you how, by making Lakeview Terrace with some great actors and delivering a superb thriller that piles on the tension throughout. LaBute has just shown his critics that he can make a damn good film and that The Wicker Man might have been nothing more than a blip.
What bothers Abel more than the couple being together is that they're together in his neighbourhood, and indeed right next door to him. So he sets out to either drive a wedge between them and split them up, or get them out of his neighbourhood, whichever it is he doesn't care.
The big surprise for the film is the strong and surprisingly subtle script which is far from what I expected from this director, of course the writers deliver the script but the director can make or break it when bringing it to life on the screen, and Neil LaBute does more than make it, he makes it thrive.
However some do say that the writers and director have something to answer for and that's the ending. It's a little Hollywood in set-up, but I felt that there was enough to make it something a little more unique in the way it plays out. Anyway, more of that later.
There's a feeling of unease from the moment we first see Samuel L. Jackson outside his house and the new couple arrive, it just feels like there's something not quite right, just a little off centre. What's great is that teat feeling is conveyed through the film from the first scene and just builds and builds, growing into a feeling of dread whenever the two male leads of Jackson and Patrick Wilson meet, and with each meeting it grows. You do find yourself sitting there feeling more uncomfortable as each meeting arrives.
Even from the first scene together as Wilson's character, Chris Mattson, is sitting in the car and Abel appears at his window, you can taste the menace and tension between them in the scene, and while the dynamics change in different ones, that feeling is still there from start to finish.
While the couple characters of Chris and Lisa Mattson played by Kerry Washington are pretty much set from the beginning of the film, Samuel L. Jackson's character of Abel Turner slowly evolves. We see him revealed through his interactions with others, not so much straight character progression. Dealing with his kids, his workmates, the criminals he's chasing down, and the couple themselves, as we see each interaction we learn a little more about him as a character.
I love that development, and I really enjoyed the way he wasn't set as a rounded character from the offset, nor was he set as the simple bad guy, there are many layers to him and not all bad. While he's clearly racist, there are so many other motivations and drivers in his life and he's definitely not an all bad person, and that's what makes his character even better in the film.
The building of the relationship between Abel and Chris was superbly handled. I did enjoy the way their combative relationship escalates, the progression feels very natural, as do all the characters. Their reactions to the events and to what Abel throws at them feel real, reactions that you might have yourself and not the typical Hollywood ones to progress the story. They escalate in small steps, but not enough to drag the film, enough to push the story forward and keep the tensions high.
That's true of most of the film, nothing was over done or too over the top. No escalation was too big a leap, and even the ending felt pretty real with Chris's reactions. There I go on that ending that has the audience split again, and I am sitting in the enjoyed it camp.
There is a distinct feeling of of the ending being a little Hollywood, there's no denying that, that's if you look at the events written down on paper - this happens, that happens, and so on. However if you get into what actually happens and how Patrick Wilson plays it, and you'll see a fair bit more than what you might have thought.
With the tension having been ramped up and up this is really the only way the film could play out, and it does it well. Frankly I can't see how else it could have delivered. In the final scenes the relationship comes to a sudden and dramatic conclusion, with a huge reveal that propels the characters to a massive confrontation just as the neighbourhood is ready to explode around them.
The conclusion brings the characters together and changes their directions and lives forever. While some find difficulty with the ending I felt caught up with the way the film built the tension and kept it rising to the very last moment, and I enjoyed it.
It has to be said that Samuel L. Jackson gave a wonderful performance delivering his signature angry character in a superbly restrained and controlled manner that befitted the confident and calculating character. There were few moments when the control of the character slides and the anger slips out, but he still plays it very real and unrelenting. When the reality hits of just how deep he's in and what's happening around him he still manages to hold onto the control but the façade is beginning to slip.
Patrick Wilson is another actor that deserves a mention here. While he doesn't get to do any trademark stares that could put the fear of god into someone, he does have a great natural way about him and lends a lot of believability to his character, giving lots of great reaction shots to Abel. I really liked the way his character struggled with how to deal with Abel, held a slight racism of his own, and even when he found the strength to push back he was confused and scared throughout.
Wilson and Kerry Washington together make a strong on screen couple and again are very natural and realistic, in fact it's worth not losing sight of how good her performance is behind these two male leads. She's far from being a weak damsel in distress.
Actors and story aside the lighting and cinematography is strong making the film look strong and build tension, a fact that is helped along by the editing which keeps the film and the story moving at a fair pace and never floundering.
Lakeview Terrace is a great example of a strong Blu-ray picture. A lot of the action happens at night, and on a television which has restricted contrast ratios you might be looking at a difficult picture to watch with a lot of detail missing. This is something that I often feel poorer quality films suffer from, but not here.
The blacks are shown without merging into each other and and the detail remains strong and clear throughout. What can be worse than a dark picture is the addition of smoke, something that often tests the digital quality of discs and equipment, and when it appears here during the night time scenes there are no issues whatsoever, the picture still remains strong with subtle shades of blacks and greys throughout.
Colours are strong and bright but never over saturated. There's plenty of detail and depth through the entire film and it looks like a Blu-ray film when so many simply look like direct transfers from DVD.
Dolby Digital TrueHD, Dolby Digital 5.1
The audio was good, although I have to admit I was struggling to find out why a TrueHD track was required. There were some rear effects through the film but nothing significant as the majority of the audio is dialogue, that is until it hits the final scene with the helicopters. For the most part the audio track is subtle and restrained, focusing on the actors and performances more than big effects and movement of sound.
Audio Commentary with Neil LaBute and Kerry Washington, Deleted Scenes with audio commentary from Neil LaBute, three featurettes
Audio Commentary with Neil LaBute and Kerry Washington
The commentary is quite good, although I'm disappointed at the lack of Patrick Wilson or Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington does provide some insight into working with Neil LaBute, the other actors and on the set itself. LaBute talks a lot about the film, the actors and the film-making process, and there's a lot of interesting information to be had here.
LaBute does take a moment to be overly critical of film bloggers, pitching them beneath the educated and trained critics and says that these people are not his audience - he obviously hasn't grasped the customer aspect of the business model of film and that film bloggers are a portion of the audience and the marketing machine.
Still, despite him taking a moment to personally attack people like me, it's a not bad commentary.
Deleted Scenes with audio commentary from Neil LaBute
There are a few deleted scenes to be watched and here they are deleted scenes in the true scene of the phrase, for they are complete scenes. It's a great addition to see this type of content rather than just a selection of partial moments cut from scenes to save time.
Here we also get the benefit of the director talking about why each scene has been removed from the film and what the scene meant. Well almost all apart from the last one which would have been the best to have heard a commentary for.
The last two scenes are actually the same scene which was cut from the film, the first is an R rated version and the last is a PG-13 rated, and while LaBute commentates the R rated scene, he doesn't then come back to do a comparison with the PG rated one and talk about what was involved in the cuts, and I think that's a real shame.
Featurettes: An Open House, Meet Your Neighbors, Home Sweet Home
The Three featurettes are rather interesting but don't run too long and don't deliver too much over the standard featurettes you find. An Open House talks about the story and script, Meet Your Neighbors looks at the cast, and Home Sweet Home takes a look at the production. All deliver the cast and crew talking about the film as well as behind the scenes, but they are short.
LaBute does a great job with this script from David Loughery and Howard Korder, and it does make you wonder just what went wrong with The Wicker Man. However I do think that with Lakeview Terrace he firmly puts that film behind him.
The film is a strong thriller that plays out really well with strong and believable characters. It builds tension throughout to a final few scenes that have some disappointed and others, like me, thinking that he did a great job of meeting studio and audience requirements, marrying Hollywood with the thriller he'd built. Yes, of course that means that the ending isn't perfect and it does play out slightly as expected, but I think it does it in a positive way.
Jackson and Wilson give great performances in the film and are great to watch together, and the strong Blu-ray picture brings you into the film.
The audio commentary and extras could have had a little more work and input, but all in all there are enough extras to keep you happy.
Lakeview Terrace is a strong thriller and a good film with some great moments and strong performances.