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(1999) (Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A college professor suspects that his new neighbors may be domestic terrorists and tries to prove that before they take their next step of action.
Michael Faraday (JEFF BRIDGES) is a college history professor who's been raising his nine-year-old son, Grant (SPENCER TREAT CLARK), since the untimely death of his FBI agent wife who was killed in the line of duty. Somewhat of a specialist regarding American terrorism, Michael starts to become suspicious of his new suburban neighbors, Oliver (TIM ROBBINS) and Cheryl Lang (JOAN CUSACK), whom he's just met after taking their son, Brady (MASON GAMBLE), to the emergency room following a reported fireworks accident.

At first his suspicions are based on little things such as Oliver's architectural blueprints that seem to be for something other than the shopping mall he claims he's building, as well as pieces of mail that contradict where Oliver said he attended college.

Of course neither his girlfriend and former student, Brooke Wolfe (HOPE DAVIS), nor his wife's former partner, Whit Carver (ROBERT GOSSETT), believe any of his wild theories, especially since the Langs seem like such nice people. Yet, Michael continues to uncover what could be possible evidence and becomes even more wary of Oliver and Cheryl. As such, his beliefs that they're behind some sort of pending terrorist act, coupled with the fact that no one believes him, soon drives Michael to the brink of madness.

Teens may be drawn to this thriller, as might those who are fans of anyone in the cast, but it's unlikely any younger kids will be interested in it.
For violence and some language.
  • JEFF BRIDGES plays a widowed college professor who occasionally has his girlfriend sleep over at his house (in the presence of his young son) and begins to believe that his neighbors are actually terrorists in hiding. As such, he seemingly begins to act a bit paranoid and uses some brief, strong profanity.
  • TIM ROBBINS and JOAN CUSACK play the new neighbors, a gracious and inviting married couple who befriend Michael and his family, but may be hiding a darker and more sinister secret underneath their suburban good cheer veneer (in fact, they turn out to be deadly terrorists).
  • HOPE DAVIS plays Michael's girlfriend who occasionally sleeps at his house (in the presence of a nine-year-old) and increasingly becomes irritated at his seemingly growing paranoia.
  • ROBERT GOSSETT plays an FBI agent who tries to help Michael but becomes frustrated with him.
  • SPENCER TREAT CLARK plays Michael's nine-year-old son who's still upset about his mom being gone.
  • MASON GAMBLE plays the Lang's son who injures himself playing with fireworks (while his injury is seen, the act is not).


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    It used to be that when considering one's neighbors, all you had to be concerned with was "keeping up with the Joneses." Sure, there would always be the irritating ones, neighbors who threw parties 'till all hours of the night or planted plastic pink flamingos in the front yard.

    Hollywood obviously thought such neighborhood inconveniences were the fodder for TV and films, and as such, delivered many a suburban "nightmare." As such, poor Mr. Wilson's thorn in the side was Dennis the Menace. Samantha and Darrin Stephens had to deal with the always nosey Gladys Kravitz, while several neighborhood families saw their property values drop due to living near "The Addams Family" and "The Munsters."

    Meanwhile and on the big screen, the "Grumpy Old Men" films portrayed constantly bickering neighbors, 1981's "Neighbors" had Dan Aykroyd terrorizing John Belushi's suburban bliss, and in 1989's "The 'burbs," Tom Hanks wanted to know more about the new and mysterious family on the block.

    Yet none of those neighbors amounted to much when compared with what the character played by Jeff Bridges fears are actually terrorists living across the street. That, coupled with the fact that people nowadays don't really know their neighbors like they used to, makes up the intriguing premise of the clever and somewhat unconventional thriller, "Arlington Road."

    Taking a decidedly more individualistic and less preachy route than last year's domestic terrorism film, "The Siege," this picture may warrant a moderate amount of suspension of disbelief at times to work. Nonetheless, and for the most part, it's an effective, albeit nontraditional Hollywood thriller.

    While the picture stumbles a bit while trying to disguise an Oklahoma City-like tragedy with a fictitious, but highly similar bombing in St. Louis, it's really more concerned with telling a story about spiraling out of control paranoia than full-blown terrorism.

    As such, and as in other similarly thematic films, the "fun" of this picture is in watching the protagonist trying to prove what to him has become an increasingly obvious point. Of course, it doesn't help that his loved ones and acquaintances begin to think that perhaps he's "blown a gasket," especially when they continually manage to nullify his evidence with everyday explanations. That only adds to his growing frustration and mounting paranoia, and when he eventually figures out he must be right, the big race against time to reveal and/or stop the alleged villains rounds out the events.

    Such recurring "no one believes me" plot devices have worked for years in thrillers such as "The Parallax View" and the more recent "Conspiracy Theory," while Hitchcock effectively used such paranoia/conspiracy in several of his pictures. With the recent increase in domestic terrorism, however, this plot will probably hit a bit closer to home for everyone and may have you subsequently eying your "perfect" neighbors a bit more closely.

    While some may complain that Ehren Kruger's screenplay -- which received the Nicholl Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- requires too many conveniences and make the Langs too perfectly villainous (such as drinking milk while Michael and his girlfriend have wine, when not being so gosh-darn happy and pleasant), those objections are mostly moot for several reasons.

    Although the proceedings appear to necessitate some suspension of disbelief, this is one of those films -- like last year's "Wild Things" -- where the overall picture and all of its scheming and succession of unfolding events seem better in hindsight -- after one has grasped, sorted and analyzed everything -- then when they occur during the film. While a few moments may still seem forced and/or unbelievable to some viewers, that's part of the accepted fun of the genre and most do work in the context of the scene and/or when thought about afterwards.

    Regarding the Langs -- and despite the un-Hollywood-like turn of events -- this is a traditional movie with heroes and villains. Thus, few moviegoers will be surprised when the presumed villains turn out to be the real thing. In addition, part of the fun is the near campy way in which the Langs are played. With their big loopy grins and unfettered enthusiasm and pleasantry that masks an underlying darkness, they're something of a product of the Stepford wives moving to Pleasantville.

    As such, Tim Robbins ("The Shawshank Redemption," "The Players") and Joan Cusack ("In & Out," "Working Girl") are a hoot to watch in their respective roles. Perfectly playing the apparently benign but certainly creepy and inevitably malevolent neighbors, Robbins and Cusack are quite good and fortunately take their characters a step or two beyond this genre's usually menacing, but often flat stereotypes.

    Of course, they're only half the equation and for the film to work as best as possible, the audience completely needs to buy into and fully sympathize with the protagonist. That part falls into the lap of the highly underappreciated Jeff Bridges. While he may have garnered three Oscar nominations (for "Starman," "Thunderbolt & Lightfoot" and "The Last Picture Show") during his career, the moviegoing public hasn't turned him into the big star that he deserves to become, although he may actually appreciate that.

    Nonetheless, and while I've enjoyed and appreciated most everything Bridges has done in his long career, one can't help but feel that the script somewhat shortchanges his ability to succeed in this role. Bridges certainly pumps as much life into the character as possible and all of the necessary elements are present, such as the anger and grief over his wife's death that left him to raise their son alone, and his preoccupation with terrorists, etc...

    Yet the character occasionally comes off feeling more like a proper and carefully constructed screenplay creation that a real-life human being. Although Bridges pours a lot into the performance -- as usual -- he can't completely manage to overcome that script-related shortcoming.

    It's not a huge problem, and it certainly doesn't come close to ruining the film in any way, as Kruger and director Mark Pellington ("Going All the Way") make sure they repeatedly ratchet up the tension notch after notch. The effect will keep most viewers on the edge of their seats and the blurring of lines between the hero and the villains adds a welcomed layer of complexity to the plot.

    Although the film won't please everyone, its decidedly non Hollywood-like turn of events certainly sets it apart from the standard "thrillers" that often don't live up to the expectations of their descriptive genre. Featuring decent performances and a clever script that's cumulatively better than its individual scenes, "Arlington Road" may not be the happiest film around, but it's certainly one of the more thrilling. As such, we give this film a 7.5 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated film. Violence is extreme due to several scenes where people are wounded and killed in a gunfight as well as an act of domestic terrorism where a building is destroyed. Other non-lethal violence is also present, and most of such acts have varying degrees of bloody results.

    A great deal of the film is filled with suspenseful scenes, and due to such terrorist acts and other behavior that's not quite as serious, the bad attitudes category also rates as extreme. Profanity is heavy due to 4 uses of the "f' word, while other profanities and some phrases are also present.

    Some brief drinking and smoking also occur, and a single father has his girlfriend sleep over at his house (in the presence of his nine-year-old son), although we don't see any sexual activity. The death of that boy's mother still affects him and his father and the boy is briefly concerned that his dad's new girlfriend will replace his mother.

    Should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for yourself or anyone else in your home, we suggest that you take a closer look at the listed content.

    Of special note for those concerned with bright, repetitive flashes of lights, that occurs in several scenes here (during the opening credits and late in the film).

  • We see beer bottles between Michael and Oliver and then see Michael hold one, but not drink from it.
  • Michael and Brooke twice have wine at the Langs.
  • Oliver asks Michael if he has time for a drink, but the latter says that he doesn't.
  • Brooke has wine.
  • While talking about stupid things one may have done when they were teenagers, Oliver theoretically comments to Michael about "the lies you told...the drugs you took."
  • Michael takes a drink of beer.
  • People have drinks at a party.
  • As Brady stumbles down the road, we see that blood has dripped onto his shoe and his pants. When Michael finally gets to him, we see that the boy's hand is very bloody and blackened from a fireworks explosion. We later see that Michael's face and shirt are somewhat bloody from this as well.
  • We see a brief shot of some people who've been hanged as well as a few out of focus photos of somewhat bloody victims of terrorist attacks.
  • Several people are wounded during a gun battle and are subsequently somewhat bloody.
  • Oliver's face is bloody after he's been repeatedly punched.
  • Michael has a small bloody mark/abrasion in one corner of his mouth and his knuckles also look red from blood/abrasions.
  • We see several shots of bloody people after a terrorist bombing.
  • Obviously the terrorists throughout the film have extreme cases of both.
  • Some may see Michael as having some of both for having his girlfriend/former student sleeping over in the presence of his nine-year-old son.
  • According to Michael, the FBI had/has both for not apologizing after bungling a stakeout that led to his wife's death.
  • Michael takes mail from Oliver's mailbox, acts like someone else over the phone and snoops through Oliver's office, all while trying to find information on his neighbor.
  • In an unsettling opening sequence (shot in a disorienting fashion and accompanied by ominous music), Michael discovers Brady stumbling down the road, his hand a blackened and bloody mess. He subsequently races him to the emergency room.
  • We see a flashback involving Whit and Michael's wife on a stakeout somewhere in the country. The FBI team encounters a boy who runs back to the house, grabs a gun and starts firing at the agents. Other family members then join in and several individuals on both sides of the subsequent gun battle are wounded. Finally, Michael's wife turns around to see a woman aiming a shotgun at her and we hear that weapon go off as the scene ends.
  • Michael snoops around Oliver's study while at any moment we expect someone to show up and discover what he's doing.
  • Oliver acts menacingly toward Michael while confronting him about Michael's snooping.
  • The whole last third of the movie or so builds up the tension and suspense as Michael races in several scenes to stop what he thinks are the terrorists.
  • Handguns/Shotguns/Automatic weapons/Explosives Used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Various weapons: Briefly seen in sketches or pictures detailing assassins or terrorists.
  • Phrases: "You sick f*ck," "You look like sh*t," "Screw" (sexual) and "Jeez."
  • Although we don't see the act, we hear that Brady got hurt from playing with fireworks.
  • There's always the possibility that the domestic terrorism displayed in the film may prompt some troubled teens to try to imitate it.
  • Michael takes mail from Oliver's mailbox, acts like someone else over the phone and snoops through Oliver's office, all while trying to find information on his neighbor.
  • The sound of a loud gunshot may startle some viewers.
  • A person suddenly shows up behind another person in two separate scenes (that made many at our screening jump in their seats).
  • An extreme amount of suspenseful music plays during the film, along with an underlying ominous theme.
  • An old song by K.C. and the Sunshine Band plays at a party and includes the line, "Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight..."
  • At least 4 "f" words, 5 "s" words, 1 "screw" (used sexually), 3 damns, 3 hells, 1 S.O.B., and 6 uses of "G-damn," 2 each of "Oh God" and "God," and 1 use each of "My God" and "Jesus" as exclamations.
  • Although we don't see any activity, Brooke does spend the night with Michael in his house (we see her get in bed with him, but all that occurs -- that we see -- is a goodnight kiss before she turns out the light and the scene ends).
  • While talking about stupid things one may have done when they were sixteen, Oliver theoretically asks Michael, "Did you ever screw the wrong girl?"
  • A few miscellaneous characters smoke in several scenes.
  • Michael and Grant are still grieving over the recent and untimely death of Mrs. Faraday, and there are several discussions about this (and how it and Michael's relationship with Brooke impact Grant -- in one scene he asks if Brooke is going to take his mom's place) and they visit her gravesite in another scene.
  • Oliver relates a story about his father killing himself when his son was still a teenager.
  • Grant is upset with his dad when he won't let him go to camp with Brady.
  • Domestic terrorism and the reasons terrorists use to validate their actions.
  • The death of a parent and how different family members react to that.
  • Michael having Brooke sleep over at their house, all in the presence of nine-year-old Grant who's still upset about his mother's untimely death.
  • Although we only see the aftermath, a fireworks explosion severely injures Brady's hand.
  • We see a brief shot of some people who've been hanged as well as a few out of focus photos of somewhat bloody victims of terrorist attacks (as well as pictures of a destroyed building).
  • We see a flashback involving Whit and Michael's wife on a stakeout somewhere in the country. The FBI team encounters a boy who runs back to the house, grabs a gun and starts firing at the agents. Other family members then join in and several individuals on both sides of the subsequent gun battle are wounded. Finally, Michael's wife turns around to see a woman aiming a shotgun at her and we hear that weapon go off as the scene ends (and we learn that several people were killed during that).
  • There's talk of a person dying from a gunshot wound in the past (that may or may not have been murder) as well as recently on a TV news report (we see neither).
  • Oliver violently kicks something next to Michael while mad at him.
  • We learn that a person was killed in what most likely wasn't an accidental car wreck.
  • A man violently pushes another man up against a wall.
  • Two cars crash into each other and later one of those smashes into a bus and is spun around.
  • A man throws another man up against a car and punches him in the back. He then drags him into a deserted building and hits and kicks that man. The latter eventually turns the tables and repeatedly punches the first man until his face is rather bloody and then briefly pushes down on the man's throat with the weight of his foot.
  • A person smashes a two-way radio.
  • Guards aim their guns at a man.
  • A large explosion destroys a building, wounding and killing many people.

  • Reviewed July 6, 1999 / Posted July 9, 1999

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