ARLINGTON ROAD(director: Mark Pellington; screenwriter: Ehren Kruger; cinematographer: Bobby Bukowski; editor: Conrad Buff; cast: Jeff Bridges (Michael Faraday), Tim Robbins (Oliver Lang), Joan Cusack (Cheryl Lang), Hope Davis (Brooke Wolfe), Robert Gossett (FBI Agent Whit Carver), Mason Gamble (Brady Lang), Spencer Treat Clark (Grant Faraday), Stanley Anderson (Dr. Archer Scobee); Runtime: 117; Screen Gems; 1999)
“This is a sloppily made film, imitative of the smoother made The Parallax View.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
If there is one word that describes this conspiracy thriller, a take-off on the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, that word is preposterous. Ehren Kruger’s slick script is about a recently, grieving widowed history college professor, Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges), who is currently teaching a course at GW University on domestic terrorism. His FBI wife was killed on a fouled-up raid, similar to the one on Ruby Ridge. His new neighbor in this suburban Washington D.C. neighborhood is a structural engineer, Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins), who arouses the suspicion of the professor when he catches him in a white lie about what college he attended. The professor thinks he might be into bombing Federal buildings, after he does some online searches tracing Lang’s checkered biography.
This is a sloppily made film, imitative of the smoother made “The Parallax View.” It lures you into thinking it has someplace to go but after one coincidence too many and details that don’t rationally add up, this film begins to soon feel like it has been weighed down with lead. There was never for one moment after Faraday looks at the plans of a mall project at Lang’s house and says: “That’s not the mall, it’s an office building,” did I think that this was going to work. And that is one of the major problems with the film, it couldn’t hold its end in the bargain and provide a story that made sense.
MTV-trained director Mark Pellington brings his brand of cheap thrills to the screen, forgoing reality for exploitation as he tries to revisit a number of newspaper headlines in recent times about FBI mistakes and right-wing anarchists blowing up government buildings.
It was a loopy story, with a somewhat promising beginning but a terrible ending. It starts out when Faraday saves his neighbor’s kid Brady, who blew up his hand with firecrackers, by rushing him to the hospital, and that begins a shaky friendship with the Langs. Faraday’s girlfriend Brooke (Hope), a graduate assistant at the university, joins him at Lang’s house where his wife Cheryl (Cusack) is supportive of her relationship with the professor. The Langs seem like a benign, suburban couple, easily smiling and engaging in small talk. Faraday’s 9-year-old boy, Grant, is a troubled youngster, unable to communicate with others, but becomes more outgoing when he becomes friendly with their neighbor’s 10-year-old Brady.
For most of the film Faraday acts with moral indignation at the government’s cover-ups of the bombings, spouting his own conspiracy theories against a single individual involved in the bombing of a Federal building in St. Louis, acting hysterical every chance he gets. Brooke, as his whiny sweetheart, doesn’t have much to do in the film but believe that her boyfriend and former teacher is right. Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack play the smiling but sinister couple until it becomes nerve-wracking to watch them try and pull this nonsense pose off, any further.
The payoff comes in the film’s last fifteen minutes and it is resolved in an incredulous fashion, as if it were trying to evoke a cry of sympathy (ala Oklahoma City) for a tragedy that seemed acted out for symbolic purposes rather than portraying real people made up of flesh and blood. The ending depends on the coincidence that a car crash will take place at an exact time and all other events would follow suit from there on. There is no possible way that scenario could work except in a movie like this one. If you leave aside the unconvincing acting, the implausible story, its inane political views, then you might find this film somewhat entertaining and it may raise for you some pertinent questions about the FBI’s handling of recent bombings.
REVIEWED ON 3/18/2000 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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