Arlington Road

Jeff Bridges has been in this position before. A tense thriller involving maniacs with agendas using bombs to further their cause. Coming on the heels of such tragedies as the Oklahoma City, World Trade Center, and Olympics bombings, this film deals with the issue of the paranoia that everyday people experience when they suspect their neighbor of illicit activities.

Bridges plays Michael Faraday, a college professor who (conveniently) teaches a class on terrorism and how it’s affected innocent people in recent years. Seems Michael’s wife, an FBI agent, was killed during an FBI operation involving extremists. So you can understand if he’s a little…emotional while teaching his class. The movie opens rather strikingly: As Michael pulls into his street, he sees a child staggering down the street. Turns out the kid’s nearly blown his hand off playing with fireworks, and he’s the kid of the new people across the street.

Well, to cut to the chase, it’s not long before Michael is suspicious of his new neighbors, specifically Oliver (Tim Robbins). He’s been wary of people during the years since his wife’s death, and there are a few things Oliver says that just don’t seem right to Michael. He checks them out, and with each passing minute, we as an audience become more and more fearful for Michael and his young son. Are his fears justified?

It’s not that the acting is bad in this; it really isn’t. In fact, it’s a new kind of role for Robbins, who generally plays nice guy/hero types. (Maybe Susan Sarandon put him up to it.) And the actors play their roles with conviction, which is crucial in a movie like this, because the audience has to feel like it can relate to the characters on a somewhat personal level. Both leads pull that feat off neatly, but only on a small level, such as when they’re dealing with their female counterparts or their children. But neither actor succeeds in completely pulling in the audience to see their story. We don’t learn much about Oliver until the end – what we do learn is spotty and subjective, to say the least. I watched this movie and knew I was supposed to be rooting for Michael, but I honestly found some of his actions a little odd and a little deplorable. Sure, he may have been justified in being suspicious from the get-go, but was he justified in going to the lengths he did to find out information on his neighbors? I know the audience is supposed to start wondering about their own neighbors; what are they up to? Are they innocent? But I started to wonder about Michael’s own actions – was his invasion of privacy justified? Wasn’t he sinking almost as low as his neighbors (allegedly), albeit in a different way? Are we supposed to condone his behavior in the name of supposed justice?

Admittedly, the ending isn’t what I expected, but it’s still unsatisfying. I’m not sure what the point of it was, either. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it is!


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