Many movies that deal with topical subjects tend to either be ‘preachy’ or sensationalistic. Arlington-Road avoids these pitfalls very nicely.
Arlington-Road presents a drama of human nature rather than going for a cheap thrill. A lot of this has to do with a talented director and one of the best casts of actors that anyone could assemble.
This is a real sleeper hit. I didn’t hear much about it when it was in the theaters and the reviews were uneven. Still, I found it able to hold my attention and make me want to see what will happen next. The reasons for this are very simple, good direction, excellent cast and interesting story.
The cast of Arlington Road was obviously selected with great care. Actors of consistent backgrounds in deeply human roles were chosen and melded into an ensemble cast that draws you in deeper than you would expect.
Jeff Bridges plays Michael Faraday, a widower, a college history professor and a father of a nine-year-old boy. His specialty in teaching is American terrorism, a theme that struck too close to home.
His wife worked as a field agent for the FBI and was killed in a botched raid some three years earlier. He has finally started to date seriously and the object of his affections is his former teaching assistant, Brooke Wolfe, played close to the heart by indie actress Hope Davis (Next Stop Wonderland, Myth of Fingerprints, Daytrippers).
Davis brings a depth to her role, avoiding the pitfall of permitting it to become a peripheral part. Instead, she is vital to the chemistry of the film.
Faraday is coming home from work one afternoon and sees a young boy badly burned and bleeding. He rushes him to the hospital were he meets the boy’s parents, Oliver and Cheryl Lang, played by Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack.
Tim Robbins is the master of characters with understated strength. This is what made the film, Shawshank Redemption and it is what absolutely makes Arlington Road.
He looks like anyone else on the surface but every so often you catch a glimpse of something much, much deeper. This is what gets Faraday suspicious. He begins to think his new friends and neighbors are hiding a terrible secret.
Cusack is wonderful as the neighbor’s wife. Her almost patented quirky smile is disarming at first but like her husband you begin to see a much darker side peeking out. You could not hope for a better cast of talent nor a better vehicle to showcase them.
Director Mark Pellington has not had much in the way of major movies before Arlington Road. Yet, from seeing how each frame is painted on the screen, each line timed to perfection, it is easy to see this man going places as a director.
He did have a previous movie with a notable cast, Going All the Way, but it is Arlington Road that really sets the future path for Pellington. He shows us a nice suburban community, a bedroom community where everyone is upper middle class, has kids and mows they lawn.
Into this ideal setting Pellington plants a seed of doubt. Are things as they seem? Do I really know my neighbors? While it is easy to set a thriller of this depth in a building or airport as in Die Hard, it is much more difficult to do so on a quiet little block that could be almost anywhere in the country.
Pellington shows us that terror is all the more frightening when it is in a place that you should feel safe.
The Arlington Road DVD itself is very well done. There are commentaries by the actors and director that help to understand the process behind this thriller. Also included are deleted scenes and an alternate ending.
Rather than just presenting the ending, the director first introduces the alternate and explains why they chose the ending they did.
The video is crisp and clear.
The Dolby 5.1 sounds are extremely well done. Rather than using the surround speakers for loud special effects you hear things like birds chirping, a dog barking, other suburban sounds to help complete the feel that you are in this typical middle class neighborhood.
Bottom line is get Arlington Road and enjoy.
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