I am saddened by the fact that "Arlington Road" got less than the attention it deserved when it was released last year. I planned on seeing it in the theaters, but seems theater owners pulled it prematurely. However "Arlington Road" failed to attract the attention of moviegoers and critics, I fail to understand. As a film, "Arlington Road" does just exactly what it needs to do--entertain- and so much more.
It's a film that oozes suspense and paranoia. Jeff Bridges (Michael Faraday) has apt eyes for the occasion: they look appropriately suspicious in close-ups. Tim Robbins (Oliver Lang/William Fenimore) also has apt eyes. They exude confidence, calculation, but they appear haunted. Cold. Both are excellent in their roles: Jeff Bridges the picture of plagued intellectual, Tim Robbins the suspiciously normal-looking neighbor. Joan Cusack, the picture-perfect wife. Hope Davis is exceptional as Faraday's vulnerable girlfriend Brooke with the heart of gold. It is very clear from the haunting opening sequence (the credits, however, show that someone might have a filter obsession) that we're in for something chilling and different. Faraday's lectures on terrorism are haunting and fascinating in their own right. We realize that the film is foreshadowing, but it isn't until much later that we realize that we've been thinking in the wrong direction. The lectures, as the film, make us think. Beneath the surface, beyond the pale. I'm not kidding when I say that perhaps every young adult needs to watch this movie before they turn into another frenzied prosecutor or bigot. I'm not saying paranoia is desirable. But society ought not be allowed to pigeonhole individuals. The wily politician. The coldblooded murderer. Just look at how many of our commonplace phrases portray, in fact, stereotypes. Behind every sensationalist newscast or article there is another story that more often than not, neglects to be told. Faraday's lectures and the film provide us with a fantastical glimpse of what happens when too many of us fail to pay attention to what's really going on. That aside, "Arlington Road" is extremely entertaining as a suspense thriller. I love the paranoia factor: Michael Faraday never imagined, in all his years of teaching terrorism, that he'd have to experience it himself. He (and we) wonder if he's gone off his rocker. When he's confronted by Oliver/Will, he/we wonder if he's made a terribly insulting mistake. In the vein of "The Game," we're constantly forced to ask questions. I love the relationship between Michael and Brooke. There's a Mulder/Scully thing going on there. The trust issue. And I love how even at the very end, we can't really be sure what's going on. Did Michael go crazy and orchestrate the entire thing? Or is everything really as it seems (which of course, isn't what it seems, if you know what I mean)?
In fact, "Arlington Road" does so well as a suspense thriller that it almost fools you into thinking that it is a conventional movie. It covers all the points: the villain appears when the hero least expects it. The hero isn't sure if he's been caught or not. Suspense. The hero sneaks into the villain's house to do a little investigating. Almost gets caught. Suspense. Hero's girlfriend killed in suspicious car accident. The stakes are higher now. Everything falls easily into place. We never realize that this is something different until everything turns against us in the denouement. We never realize that we're being baited until the very end, when we realize that we're still thinking that the hero is going to stop the bomb somehow. Something's going to happen. But it never does. It might be just a bad nightmare. He'll wake up soon. But he never does. And as the film ends it delivers its ultimate coup: The good guys didn't win. Instead it's the bad guys, holding up the facade of normalcy. Makes you wonder, huh?
Rating: B+ (First viewing, 8/23/00)