Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Arlington Road

By Steve Davis

JULY 19, 1999: 

D: Mark Pellington; with Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Hope Davis, Joan Cusack, Robert Gossett, Mason Gamble. (R, 117 min.)

Paranoia strikes deep in Arlington Road, a political thriller in which the manicured lawns and barbecue smiles of suburbia mask a banal malevolence. Here, evil has a familiar face: the people next door. Perhaps the first major film to squarely address the anti-government movement, Arlington Road fictionalizes aspects of the Oklahoma City bombing and the shootings at Ruby Ridge in its story about a university professor, Michael Faraday, who suspects that his seemingly upright neighbor is something other than benign. Soon enough, he has pieced together a conspiracy that reveals the neighbor as the anti-Mr. Rogers, Timothy McVeigh in a cardigan sweater. Arlington Road aims to unsettle a complacent America -- what if you lived on the same street as someone who blows up buildings? -- but its character insight unwittingly distances its horror. Its protagonist is no ordinary Joe, but rather a man obsessed with American terrorism, a widower still grieving his wife, an FBI agent who was killed in a botched firearms raid. Although the film's script prompts the tormented Faraday (Bridges, in a pinched performance) to question whether he is projecting his emotional baggage onto an innocent man, you unmistakably know that something's afoot from Pellington's unsubtle direction. The contrasts in light, shadow, and darkness; the extreme camera angles; the blurred and grainy images; the accelerated film speed -- these MTV-ish visual cues are a bit much in conveying a sense of the disquieting. Still, credit must be given to the unflinching bravery of Arlington Road in avoiding a Hollywood cop-out in its tense final moments. Although the ending suggests a setup, or more implausibly, a grand scheme in which Faraday is but a pawn, nothing can detract from this gut-wrenching conclusion, which will undoubtedly leave you stunned. Amidst the rubble of political rhetoric that underlies Arlington Road, one thing is clear: The enemy is us.

3 stars

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