Arlington Road (1999)
Neighbours Burn their Bridges
Never wiser than when we're children. They say it and it's true. We'll never see things that clear again. - Oliver Lang
I am sure if Alfred Hitchcock had been around and making movies at the back end of the 90s he would have made "Arlington Road". It is the sort of thing which Hitchcock would have made, a thriller which grows building intrigue the longer it goes on, making you question everything before surprising you with various twists. In fact in some ways it is reminiscent to Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew to Much" with terrorists and kidnapped children but it is also more and although "Arlington Road" has a few flaws still draws you in to the storyline and keeps your gripped to every single second as you are never sure how it is going to end.
Still struggling to deal with the loss of his wife, an FBI agent, who died on an anti-terrorist operation, professor Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges - The Big Lebowski) is obsessed with the culture of terrorism. But when he helps save an injured boy he meets his new neighbours, Oliver (Tim Robbins - Nothing to Lose) and Cheryl Lang (Joan Cusack - In & Out) who along with their children befriend Michael and his son. But whilst Michael is initially grateful to have new friends he begins to suspect all is not as it seems in the Lang house and begins to wonder whether he has terrorists living next door.
"Arlington Road" starts in quite a shocking manner, a state of confusion as we watch this injured child walking down the middle of a road cradling his bloody arm. It's distressing and intentionally confusing but provides a powerful intro and the initial set up of Michael Faraday and his neighbours the Lang's. What follows is layers of background storyline where we learn that Faraday's wife, an FBI agent, died whilst tracking down a suspected terrorist, that his son hasn't got over the death of his mother and to be honest nor has he as he is infatuated by terrorist activities. It's a clever build up because it grabs your attention and keeps it whilst we learn about the important characters.
Set up out of the way and "Arlington Road" steps up a gear as Michael begins to question who the Lang's are as he becomes suspicious. It continues to build as he becomes more and more suspicious of them and starts digging around in their backgrounds suspecting them of being terrorists. It is all very clever stuff and surprisingly feasible as we learn things which are cleverly explained in the narrative such as why Oliver Lang changed his name when he was younger. And what this does is make you question things, are the Lang's terrorists, has Faraday's obsession with terrorists become paranoia and are his friends really his friends. Whilst visually "Arlington Road" isn't Hitchcock, the way it makes you question, makes you second guess what is what most certainly is.
And then as it reaches the pinnacle having drawn us in to this intriguing story causing us to question everyone and everything it brings in an element of action. But rather than letting the action dominate the climax it enhances it as Faraday becomes convinced that Oliver Lang and his wife are terrorists. And is intentionally confusing as the storyline is the frenetic styling of the action just adds to the heady sensation of chaos especially as Faraday is pushed to the point of breaking, a deranged mess of a man.
As such part of the reason why "Arlington Road" is so good is that it features Jeff Bridges on stellar form as Michael Faraday. Bridges delivers such a believable dad, the single father who is trying to look after his son whilst dealing with an underlying emotional rage over the death of his wife. And he keeps it believable when Michael begins to doubt his neighbours creating a character which could be right but also could be paranoid before going full out deranged. But Bridges is not alone and Tim Robbins is just as impressive as neighbour Oliver Lang making him mysterious, dangerous and a little creepy without being a caricature. Robbins makes Lang real but makes him an uneasy character someone we can suspect of hiding something but equally someone who is just that little bit edgy. The one on one scenes between Bridges and Robbins are brilliant, intense to the point it gets you on the edge of your seat.
Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins are not alone in giving brilliant performances as "Arlington Road" has a solid cast. Joan Cusack as Cheryl Lang is perfectly creepy, making us question her from the start but then adding a touch of normality so we actually feel bad for doubting her. And then there is Hope Davis and Robert Gossett who both deliver strong performances making their background characters more than just 2 dimensional props.
Whilst all of this is good "Arlington Road" isn't a perfect movie. There are elements in the narrative such as Michael's son confiding in Oliver about his emotions just feels wrong, far too unbelievable. And the way Faraday manages to snoop around a little too easily spoils things slightly but not to the point that it ruins the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Arlington Road" is a very good thriller, a thriller which I am sure Hitchcock would have made if he had still been alive. It draws you into the story building a sense of intrigue which makes you question and doubt everything before giving a frenetic, action packed climax which packs a few surprises. It's not perfect but great performances from Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins as well as solid direction from Mark Pellington makes up for the few minor issues.
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