The movie does offer a haunting question: Is this paranoia, or is this the new reality?
Arlington Road will scare you mightily before it lets you down. Uncomfortably topical, it is also an absorbing study of the mind of a contemporary terrorist. Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins are such innovative, risk-taking actors that they force the inconsistencies into the background. Watching them act is a good movie evening-good enough to forgive the fact that the whole thing plunges over the edge of credibility after an hour or so.
From the first scene, Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins) and his wife, Cheryl (Joan Cusack), wear the sly smiles and lurid leers of a suburban couple whose secrets and lies we know will sooner or later explode into perversity. Ms. Cusack especially can turn a smile into a sharpened icicle.
In one excellent scene Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges), a history professor specializing in domestic terrorism, confronts suspect Oliver Lang (Mr. Robbins), who happens to be his neighbor, in a terrific multilayered conversation about paranoia and juvenile guilt. For a few fine moments the audience finds itself in the bewildering world of grays, where answers are elusive and it is invited to think.
But a place with no clear answers is an uncomfortable spot for a filmmaker to be, and director Pellington, caught in the compulsion to feed the moviegoing public's appetite for car chases and shootouts, quickly erases the fine effects of this scene with standard action. Hollywood needs to catch up to its audiences, who have moved beyond the simplistic view of terrorism. The public is ready to grapple, in a real way, with why America, with all its opportunity, is such a violent country. Arlington Road had the acting talent to take a look at that. The most sinister aspect of this film is its depiction of the ease with which terrorists can do their work in a free country. Government buildings, schools, tunnels, bridges, water supplies-everything is open to anyone who wants to destroy it.
The chilling ordinariness of terrorists inhabiting a suburban town has become vivid as Littleton and other American towns have sprung into the national headlines. Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, and Jeff Bridges scare us with the real stuff of possibilities. We are becoming used to commonplace faces covering tortured souls.
Michael Faraday, devoted father, teaches his son values through love; Oliver Lang, carrying a family injustice that burns in his gut, can only recreate his own misery in his son. This is the theme that effectively laces together the elements of this thriller, but it would have been stronger without the director's itchy trigger finger. The movie does offer a haunting question: Is this paranoia, or is this the new reality?
Using a St. Louis bombing to explore the American reaction to things that "can't happen here," the filmmakers explain that Americans want a villain in order to reestablish their security. "We want one name, and we want it fast." Then things will be the same again. Not really, not ever, this movie reminds us.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Screen Gems
Rating : R
Running time : 1h57m
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