Trust no one. Really, that's the unmistakable message of "Lakeview Terrace."
Even the law can be crooked; even a seasoned veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department like Abel Turner.
Samuel L. Jackson dazzles as Turner, the simmering-beneath-the-surface cop who has seen it all and dealt with everyone and every conceivable crime. Without his uttering a word, his face communicates his innermost sentiments with every creepy close-up. Always in control on the job, he finds the only shattered reality he can't fix is his own.
For reasons not revealed until well into the story, the tightly wound Turner, despite working on a daily basis with a mélange of urban folk, cannot tolerate an interracial couple, particularly when they have the audacity to move in next door to him and his two angelic children.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
His solution is to run them off, by any means necessary. If his tactics are illegal, so be it.
First-time homeowners Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) find the house of their dreams: up on a hill, surrounded by beautiful landscaping and flowers, with an inviting pool and a view of the valley (no lake, as the title implies?).
The only problem is their scheming next door neighbor, who makes no secret of the fact that he does not approve of their relationship.
Wilson is splendid as the cunning yet wary victim, who balances the roles of loving husband to Lisa and feisty verbal sparring partner for Abel. As his warm yet wishy-washy wife, Washington is pleasant, but she is not given enough screen time to play anything beyond blissful bride or terrified victim. As the conflict progresses, there are fewer opportunities for the former and more for the latter.
Strange things start to happen around their idyllic home -- to them, their barely unpacked belongings and their property. And much to Abel's chagrin, none of it works. Chris just digs in, meets every spiteful stunt with his own controlled yet understandable response, and makes it clear that he and Lisa are not moving.
The film meanders around the standoff and too many trite scenes of Turner on the beat in the seedier side of the city, or trying to fly solo as a dad and woefully misunderstanding his 15-going-on-30 daughter. But the focus finally turns to the mutual rage building between the two men. When their battle becomes blatantly dangerous and threatens violence, things get interesting.
Like the memorable detective shows of the 1970s, the film makes clear who the good guys and bad guys are, and audience sympathy is established early on. The only mystery is when and in what form revenge will materialize.
Despite the lovely vistas and hokey, sometimes stilted dialogue -- tough cop talk or moments of DINK (double income, no kids) joy -- the menacing spirit permeates nearly every moment and keeps the suspense alive until the climactic final five minutes.
Never mind the Welcome Wagon. This is not the suburban life the happy couple imagined, nor is it what anyone might envision when told they're moving in next door to a police officer.
Like any unspoken dilemma, the contrasting characters, both utterly convinced of their righteousness, make us think: Whom can you trust?
More disturbing, on picturesque and deceptively tranquil Lakeview Terrace, with the wildfires burning nearby and crime just a gated lawn away, who ya gonna call when the harassing neighbor is a devil in blue, armed with a badge?