johnlink ranks ARLINGTON ROAD (1999)

Here is movie ranking number 700 for JohnLinkMovies. This feels like a non-milestone. It’s like turning 74, I would suppose. You’ve had enough birthdays to feel like you don’t need to celebrate another one, and turning 75 (or 750) is just around the corner anyway. Regardless, I wanted to watch a movie I knew would be good and I was disappointed had not shown up in the previous 699 and 5 plus years of movie rankings. So I watched a forgotten classic in ARLINGTON ROAD. There will be spoilers below, and I will give notice when they are coming. But if you know absolutely nothing about this movie, just go see it and come back.


I watched ARLINGTON ROAD (1999) on 6.26.14. It was probably my sixth or seventh viewing of the film, and first in a decade or so.

ARLINGTON ROAD is a movie which finds Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) as a man recovering from the loss of his wife. It opens with him stumbling across a bloody emergency which, it turns out, introduces him to new neighbors Oliver and Cheryl (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack). Michael teaches US History at George Washington University and his classes, since his wife’s death, have drifted towards conspiracy and fairly subtle  anti-government musings. He might not agree with this assessment, he finds himself to be morally balanced and politically correct, but his actions speak much louder than his words.

Due to some decent evidence and his job, it might seem, he begins to suspect Oliver of being more dangerous than he lets on. Their ten year old boys have become friends, and Michael is seeing some warning signs that may or may not be real. The movie quickly positions itself as being on Michael’s side, so the divergences from him thinking of Oliver and his family as bad are groan-inducing. We see the truth, and we want him to as well.

This is a movie which is about trust and terrorism in a pre 9/11 age. The threat is domestic, and it leans on the Oklahoma City bombing for major support. This is a movie which might seem, sadly, wrongly prophetic in its attempts to paint domestic terrorism as our greatest threat.  Yet it has strength in the fact that it draws from character and writing to make a good point about paranoia.


The fact that it has good writing might come as a shock since it is penned by Ehren Kruger. He is best known for botching SCREAM 3 and the last few TRANSFORMERS films (though I am making a preconceived judgment about the one released today; perhaps it is awesome). Seeing ARLINGTON ROAD is to see a writer who has considered the entire script from start to after the finish and how we perceive what we have seen. A scenario or two might have contrived dialogue and character advancement for the sake of plot, but everything that happens from the first moment can be seen as planned by the characters who are in charge of events. In that way, this can be seen as a truly smart and effective script.

The direction, by forgotten Director Mark Pellington, is similarly crafty. The opening has seemingly tangential relevance to the plot, but it sucks us in. We get a variety of canted frames to help aid paranoia. We see our heroes in dim light against a mostly black frame to indicate their isolation. A mix of handheld and stable shots give us a variety of perspective. This is a movie which you might not notice as being nicely shot only because the director lets the story unfold organically with some really smart filmic decisions.


Because we need to talk about the ending. SO go away if you haven’t seen it. Just skip to the scores.



The ending is vital.

Very few movies are willing to go where ARLINGTON ROAD does. Perhaps it is too contrived or choreographed. Many things could go wrong. But to have the sack to give us two hours of thrilling entertainment and then land where we do is bold. It is also necessary to prove the point the film wants to make: We just don’t know. Oliver Stone made a similar case with his based-somewhat-on-fact JFK. That is a movie which is well regarded and equally despised. ARLINGTON ROAD earns the former without inviting the latter.


Really, just go see ARLINGTON ROAD if you haven’t. You will be pulled through the story easily, if not forcefully, and the experience is one to remember.




FINAL SCORE: 7.75 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on June 27, 2014.

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