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Arlington Road

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Arlington Road

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins
Director: Mark Pellington
Rated: R
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: July 1999
Genres: Suspense, Thriller


*Also starring: Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Mason Gamble



Review by Walter Frith
3½ stars out of 4

Those who distrust government in many cases have good reason to do so. Unfortunately, what many fail to realize is that while we should have little tolerance for their incompetence, we must accept the fact that as human beings like us, government is fallible. There is an exchange of ideology along these lines in a smart and restless film about domestic terrorism in 'Arlington Road'.

Matching wits with each other are Jeff Bridges as college professor Michael Faraday who teaches a course in home grown terror while his next door neighbour Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins), is hiding a past with a fake identity and many visuals in his home that are strange to say the least.

What do they say? You have to watch the quiet ones? Who would think that American suburbia would be the perfect disguise for such criminal behaviour as terrorism. No tents in the forest. No cabins in the woods. No little farm house in the country. Just your average husband and wife and their kids, along with others who share in their cause, forcing their politics on the world through the barrel of a gun and more forcefully through the touch of a detonator. Oliver's wife Cheryl (Joan Cusack) is a frightening picture herself. She's a woman with a quiet demeanor. She surprises those lurking about her and her family like a spider waiting to jump on its next prey. She uses the element of surprise twice in the film in a very effective manner.

Oliver and Cheryl live next door to Michael and his girlfriend and Michael's son in a quiet Virginia neighbourhood where barbecues and kids at play are the normal thing. Michael is a father himself and the biggest mistake he makes is in letting himself get too close to the neighbours to the point where he inadvertently puts his son's life in danger. Michael begins to suspect that his neighbour Oliver is not who he seems to be. His paranoia may be justified. In addition to teaching a course on terror, Michael lost his wife, a 35 year old FBI agent, in a deadly shoot-out similar to the real life incident involving federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992. After some research through the Internet as well as some advice given to him by a friend in the FBI, Michael exposes Oliver's true identity but this is only half the story. 168 people died in the tragic Oklahoma City bombing in April of 1995 and this film uses an incident taught in Michael's college class that tones down the loss in a similar situation by mentioning that approximately sixty people died in a government building.

'Arlington Road' makes itself out to be a story of terrorism made exquisite on many levels. It's a psychological thriller along the lines of 1990's under rated 'Pacific Heights', where Michael Keaton played a menacing tenant ruining the lives of his two landlords. 'Arlington Road' uses the same form of psychological tension but on a much grander and wider scale. It challenges the viewer to guess how the climax will play out and it never gets boring for a second. It's also an angry film laced with political overtones. Any decent person knows that bad breaks in life do not justify criminal behaviour but 'Arlington Road' shows us that some give in to their hate and always seem to act with a reason. Timothy McVeigh was said to have been set off by the incident at Waco since the bombing he was convicted for happened two years to the day after the raid on the Branch Davidians. 'Arlington Road' stays credible throughout most of its running time and it's extremely hard to guess what its next move will be.

Many will find the subject matter disturbing but Tim Robbins is the perfect psychotic and Jeff Bridges is excellent as the everyday man who, in this case, gets in over his head and fails to go to the authorities until it might be too late. Done with the rippling style of a summer movie, 'Arlington Road' probably won't win any awards, but for a film I didn't expect to see in a summer of juvenile lunacy ruling the box office, 'Arlington Road' stayed with me until well after I saw two other movies.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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