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Review by Matthew Leary (9/98)

Release: 1999, Polygram
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Robert Gossett, Mason Gamble
Director: Mark Pellington
MPAA Rating: [R] violence, language
Genre: Drama/Thriller

Fear thy neighbor...
Arlington Road


As history professor Michael Faraday (Bridges) becomes more and more acquainted with his neighbor Oliver Lang (Robbins), he begins to uncover strange clues pointing to the conclusion that Lang is a terrorist planning to bomb a federal building. The film attempts to examine the psychology behind terrorism and the public's perception of it through the media.


The basic premise of the story has good intentions: to explain that the motives and people behind the stories of the nightly news are more complex than we give them credit for. Tim Robbins does well as a normal, everyday sort of guy who is really more than he seems, as does Joan Cusack in the role of his wife (although her character is more of an eerie caricature). Arlington Road offers a surprising plot twist for its conclusion, one that may have audiences questioning their world in much the same way they did in the wake of Wag the Dog.

The movie begins with a powerful, eye catching opening sequence that finds a child clutching a bloody, burned hand as he stumbles dazedly down the street. The direction in this sequence is surreal and detached, and sets the film up well. Similar elements can be seen in the subsequent flashback sequences.


Jeff Bridges is unconvincing as an obsessive history professor who revels in conspiracies since his wife's death (she was killed in the line of duty as an FBI agent), and Tim Robbins' character is eventually written as a one-dimensional lunatic by the second half of the movie. In essence, the stronger actor (Robbins) was given the weaker role, and so in the end, both characters don't come off as very appealing or meaningful. Arlington Road tries so desperately to get its point across that its message pounds away with improbable, paranoid circumstances and hard-to-swallow manifesto flavored dialogue.

By the final act, when Bridges' son is kidnapped by terrorists, Bridges finally confronts the man responsible one-on-one. But instead of showing any concern for the whereabouts of his son, he decides to get into a fist fight while simultaneously debating politics. Not likely, eh?

Finally, there's the almost insulting way in which the plot borrows from the real life Oklahoma City bombing. Rather than refer to the tragedy directly, the names have all been changed for dramatic purposes, and passed off as a separate event. It would seem more appropriate to either cite the incident directly, or fictionalize a tragedy that is not so thinly veiled. As it plays out, the audience is given no credit for knowing their news.

Rating: 5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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