Top positive review
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an intelligent and thoughtfull take on the "Home Invasion" thriller
on 5 June 2009
Lets face it, when it comes to plum roles, Samuel L Jackson has not exactly had the pick of them as of late. I mean apart from his turn in Black Snake Moan, he has been pretty much playing caricatures of himself in movies such as the terrible Snakes on a Plane, and even worse, the Spirit. So it comes as a welcome change for him to land a role that he can really get his teeth into.
And get his teeth into the role of Abel Turner he does. Turner is an LAPD officer, a single father raising two kids after the death of his wife, who seems a rather uptight and extremely strict disciplinarian. When an apparently successful young mixed race couple Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) move in next door, Turner is offended. This apparently average man has some less than average views, and begins a quiet and very subtle intimidation campaign against them. Thinking himself immune to the law (in one great scene where both we and Chris and Lisa know who broke into their garage and damaged their car, the laughing villain sits on a police car and jokes with his cop buddies) Abel begins jabbing at Chris with his slightly passive but soon very aggressive racial views, something that soon becomes impossible for the couple to ignore.
You are probably thinking you have seen this kind of thing before, what with such home invasion thrillers as Unlawful Entry and Pacific Heights, but what lifts this movie above its more obvious relatives is both Jackson's performance and the subtle way the film subverts your expectations. Jackson gives Abel Turner a believability and a depth of character that makes him into something more than a mere hate filled racist. Abel is apparently charming and well liked by the rest of the neighbourhood, a respected cop and a father of two, who's racist asides seem at first shocking but not threatening. Even when the racism turns obvious and ugly, Turners clever way of throwing his victims of the scent by defusing the situation with apologies and contrition makes him all the more threatening. And whilst there is no doubt that he is the monster of the film, Jackson manages to make him both sad and tragic, as well as maybe even a little sympathetic. On top of this his racism is not simply generated by hate (although that does come into this poisonous mix), but as far as Turner is concerned he has a very good reason for his views, and when we learn this fact late on in the film, it does not excuse his actions, but does make them a lot more believable.
The film also plays with our expectations in several neat ways. Whilst Chris and Lisa are the victims of Turners racist abuse, Turner sees himself as the victim (Chris and Lisa have invaded his territory, they break his rules), and the film plays on this to good effect (in particular in one squirm inducing scene when Chris and Lisa have a party and invite Turner over, only to have him turn on their friends and berate them for their casual and thoughtless racism and liberal attitudes). Whilst several obvious mainstays of this kind of movie are used, such as the gradually escalating tension, the apparent immunity of the aggressor to the law, and so on, none of it feels forced, and the tension builds nicely. Director Neil LaBute handles the film well, painting a picture of middle class suburban tranquillity, and then slowly destroying the peaceful scene he has created with a deft touch. This is a small, personal film tackling a very big issue, and it tackles it extremely well.