Movie Review – Arlington Road
– Summary –
Director : Mark Pellington
Year Of Release : 1999
Principal Cast : Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Robert Gossett, Spencer Treat Clark, Mason Gamble, Stanley Anderson.
Approx Running Time : 117 Minutes
Synopsis: A college professor begins to suspect that his neighbor is a terrorist.
What we think : Nail-biting thriller is a well orchestrated series of rapidly increasing plot twists; filmed well before 9/11, this film actually gained credence in the aftermath, and is as terrifying and thrilling as ever.
Absorbing, powerful, utterly thrilling film sees university terrorism lecturer Jeff Bridges suspect his next-door neighbour isn’t all he seems to be. Bridges, playing a convincing role as a widowed Michael Faraday, a man driven by all he’s taught in class, to look around corners and beneath the surface of things, who finds out more than he bargained for.
Accompanying him on this thrill-ride is Tim Robbins, playing his bug-eyed loony to the hilt, filling the screen with a malevolence that just cannot be normal in an actor. Robbins holds the film together with Bridges, as the two leading men duke it out (figuratively speaking) for bragging rights as the better actor in the film. Robbins’ portrayal of the stoic, steady Oliver Lang, remains one of my favourite screen villains of all time, his simple, dedicated task of subverting law and order while maintaining a front for the evil atrocities he’s committing is chilling in it’s light-of-day realism.
Arlington Road is a film about terrorism, made prior to 9/11, yet still shockingly powerful in just how insane the system dealing with this topic actually is. With a heartbreaking finale that will leave you lifting your jaw up off the floor, Arlington Road is terrific film-making at it’s finest. Written by Ehren Kruger, Arlington squeezes every drop of believability from it’s initially implausible scenario and creates a genuine sense of dread and head-banging terror when Faraday is at first suspicious, then outright terrified, of what Oliver is going to do, and the further Faraday digs into his neighbours past, the less inclined he is to think the man is on the level. Director Mark Pellington, whose only other major film credit is Richard Gere’s lamentably stupid The Mothman Prophecies, stamps his steady, sure-footed directorial style all over this film, which relies less on flamboyant camera-moves and more on actually telling the story with his cast. How Pellington followed this ripper yarn up with Mothman is beyond me, and the rest of his credits are limited to directing TV series, and the occasional music video (The Fray’s How To Save A Life, for example, is credited with his director stamp) and I have to say, I’d be interested to see him step behind the big-screen camera again soon.
The thing about Arlington Road is that, in essence, you are given a glimpse at just how terrifyingly simple terrorism can be, and just how hard it must be for the authorities to track and stop them. Of course, in our post 9/11 world it makes Arlington Road that much more chilling, as children, women and old folk are mere tools in the war these fanatics feel they must fight. I admit, here at fernbyfilms.com we try and avoid politics and potentially controversial topics like religion, abortion and euthanasia from our reviews, unless the film we are speaking about touches on that topic. Here, in the light of September 11, we must look at this film as a cinematic barometer of a time before we all really knew what it was like to feel real, palpable, genuine fear. There are those who have been the immediate victim of terrorism, those whose lives have been touched in some way by it through a family or friend, and then there are those who seek to perpetrate such heinous crimes. Much like Michael Faraday in this film, justifiable action on both sides, both for and against, is often buried under either bureaucratic red tape, or simply ignored by those in authority as a way to keep their own nests free of the trouble terrorism causes.
Admittedly, the horror of this film is amplified by recent world events, including 9/11, the Bali Bombings and other terror-related issues. Not a single day goes by when we don’t hear about somebody, somewhere in the world, doing something to ruin the lives of countless innocent people, people who never gave a rat’s backside to any kind of religious or political zealotry that accompanies such actions. Arlington Road, perhaps in it’s more innocent level as simply a thriller film, has, in light of the ascension of W Bush to the Presidency, and all the trouble that has been wrought in the name of “freedom” and “peace”, become more of an allegory to our world than we care to imagine. The reduction in civil and human rights, the loss of privacy and the invasion into our homes, our workplaces by people seeking to root out the “evil” in our world, and thereby promoting and proliferating it, has been made tolerable by a consistent spouting of ideals by those in charge, codes of conduct which sound fair and reasonable.
What Michael Faraday’s character goes through is nothing compared to what happens nowadays, where the hair-trigger tension between countries and terrorists ensures an almost perpetual state of emergency.
If you want to see exactly what paranoia and scepticism is capable of causing, then I suggest you give Arlington Road a whirl. It’s a dead-on look at the frailty of human life, the extent to which people will go to promote their ideals, and to what cost we should, and have, let our basic human rights now become eroded in the name of peace.
Terrifying stuff, and utterly recommended.
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