Eye For Film >> Movies >> Arlington Road (1999) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
There is a thriller tradition. The best ones don't let you know what's going on until way, way late. True paranoia turns your head into a bucket of snails. Is that man acting strangely because he's up to something? Or is it just that you're having a bad day?
Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) teaches modern American history at George Washington University, specialising in US urban terrorism. His wife was killed in a botched FBI raid a year ago. His nine-year-old son (excellent Spencer Treat Clark), is having problems with dad's blonde post-grad girlfriend (Hope Davis), who stays over too much. Nobody's happy. Change is not good.
Michael becomes involved with their new neighbours across the road, after a freak accident. He's called Oliver (Tim Robbins) and she (Joan Cusack) has a name that is equally unmemorable. They have a boy a year older. Slowly, drip by drip, Michael becomes suspicious that Oliver is not the solid, dull, middle-class engineer he claims to be. Things happen, small things. He looks into them and discovers that Oliver is not Oliver at all. When he lived on a farm outside Kansas and had a different name, he tried to bomb a government building. He was 16.
Every time Michael thinks he's found a connection with underground activity, it turns out to be innocent, to be nothing. His girlfriend thinks he's losing it. Even his late wife's FBI colleague wonders whether he needs a rest. Oliver is clean. He's a barbeque man, a suburban car cleaner, who's good with kids.
Bridges is magnificent. He lets the paranoia grow inside him like a flowering bush. You begin to doubt Michael's fears. Perhaps, his dead wife, the nature of his work, problems with his son has affected his judgement. Robbins never puts a foot wrong. He is both spooky in his calmness and ordinary in his concern. Only at the end does credibility falter, but by that time you are on the edge of your seat and notice nothing but the sweat tickling your eyeball. As a thriller, it paces itself perfectly, always a heartbeat from panic, never noticeably mad.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001