Arlington Road has a kick-a*s opening. A grinding, metallic score by Angelo Badalamenti plays under fragmented glimpses of a young boy dripping blood as he stumbles down a sunny, suburban street. This lasts for maybe two minutes. It’s all down hill from there.
Jeff Bridges plays Michæl Faraday — a college professor who lost his wife when her employers at the FBI screwed up by giving her team shoddy information. He befriends his seemingly innocuous neighbors, played by Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack, after saving the life of their son. Soon, however, Michæl develops suspicions about Robbins’ character. Why is he hiding blueprints? Why did he change his name? What did he have to do with the horrific destruction of a federal building several years ago?
Arlington Road asks you to question the security you take for granted. If you accept that Timothy McVeigh acted alone then you can feel safe. He’s been taken care of. However, if McVeigh was merely the pawn of a much larger organization that has infiltrated even the sheltered suburbs than we’ve really got something to worry about. The seemingly benign and smiley family throwing a barbecue across the street could be members of an extremist terrorist pod. In order for a film with this premise to be truly scary or thought provoking, however, it must first be convincing. This film isn’t even remotely convincing. It’s ultimately little more than exploitational scaremongering that encourages a 1984-ish paranoia and misanthropy.
It’s common knowledge that Tim Robbins likes to alternate his personal, “worthy” films with higher paying commercial vehicles and more luck to him if “Bob Roberts” is the result. However, one wishes that he’d be just a little bit more selective in his choices. His talents are utterly wasted on this film. The characters are universally cardboard thin without even the slightest iota of depth or believability. The script is so lazy and uncreative that it feels as if the writer spat it out in spare moments while getting on with more important things. The plot progression is stingingly, painfully contrived throwing all pretenses of logic and credibility out the window. The unengaging characters combined with the humdrum yet ridiculous plotting make for extremely tedious viewing. The only thing that kept me from walking out was the “twist ending” promised on the posters. The twist, if one can really call it a twist, is somewhat surprising but nowhere near unique or interesting enough to justify giving up eight bucks and two hours of your life.