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Arlington Road

Released: 1999

Genre: Mystery & Suspense

Runtime: 1 hr 57 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Mark Pellington

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Robert Gossett

A film tells the story of a widowed George Washington University professor who suspects his new neighbors are involved in terrorism and becomes obsessed with foiling their terrorist plot.

Keep your eyes on Tim Robbins.

Review by: SteveRhodes

Added: 8 years ago

You're a single father, and your 9-year-old son wants to go to a camp in the woods with a group called the Discoverer Troops. The problem is that the group may be something akin to the Hitler Youth. The group is associated with your neighbor, whom you have good reason to suspect is an anti-government terrorist and who is in town to bomb a large building full of innocent victims. His son will accompany yours on the trip.

When your son begs to go, do you give in and let him go?

Sure, because you want him to think that you're a swell father. After all, you're not absolutely positive that your neighbor is a mass murderer about to strike again.

This is one of many such predicaments that confront poor Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges). And its implausible resolution is one of many that the audience has to swallow. Better buy a large soda for this movie since you're going to be asked to swallow a lot.

Oh, did I mention that Michael is not some naïve citizen but is an expert on terrorist activities? He even teaches a course about them at George Washington University.

Actually, the movie's most serious flaws are the twists and surprise coincidences that don't seem too ridiculous until you think about them after the movie. It is only then that you realize that in order for them to work, a series of almost random events have to happen in just the right time and sequence, like a gambler who bets he can draw to a dozen inside straights in a row.

It is a shame that writer Ehren Kruger felt compelled to make the plot so obvious. Whenever he introduces any ambiguity, he feels obligated to resolve it in the next scene. As an outline, the movie works. But the devil is in the details. And the devil in these details is way too easy to spot.

Although the script is full of holes and Mark Pellington's direction is too often lethargic, some superlative acting almost saves the picture.

With suave and seductive charm, Tim Robbins plays the is-he-evil-incarnate-or-isn't-he neighbor, Oliver Lang. Oliver appears to be a reserved and compassionate man, who is as pure as the driven snow. With sweetness and delicacy, Robbins steals scene after scene. With a less obvious script and a subtler director, Robbins's brilliant work could have made this picture shine.

Jeff Bridges gives a convincing and sincere performance as the haggard father caught in the whirlwind. His proclivity to punctuate sentences with needless pauses can be frustrating, but, in his defense, perhaps it makes it more natural as well.

On the other hand, Hope Davis, as Michael's girlfriend, Brooke Wolfe, is almost too smart for the part. She plays a character who laughs off plausible warnings for too long. You have to be pretty stupid to ignore the facts presented to her, and both Davis and her character are just too intelligent to be believe that they would be that foolish.

As Oliver's wife, Cheryl, Joan Cusack was cast, one would suppose, to give the deadly serious thriller a comedic touch. Nothing she does is funny, leaving her seeming like a fish out of water. She manages to maintain the same fake, frozen smile throughout the entire movie.

The movie opens with Oliver's son standing in the street with blood dripping from what appears to be a hand partially blown away. He claims that he was just playing with fireworks -- in the middle of March, no less. Why don't writers give audiences credit for more intelligence? Why do they feel they have to telegraph every punch?

The movie does end with a dramatic and almost satisfying twist. But before you get too impressed, think about it for a minute. The ending manages to destroy not only the last part of the picture, it also makes suspect many of the seemingly more rational parts of the rest of the movie.

Check your brains at the door. Keep your eyes on Tim Robbins. And maybe you'll be able to overlook the film's flaws. Robbins gives the picture more than it deserves. His performance almost makes the movie worth recommending.

ARLINGTON ROAD runs 1:57. It is rated R for violence and some profanity and would be acceptable for teenagers.