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Arlington Road Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 December 2007
Image Professor Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) teaches American history and a course on American terrorism at George Washington University. Faraday has recently been widowed in a bungled FBI raid on American extremists. On returning home one afternoon, Faraday finds a young boy, Brady Lang (Mason Gamble) wandering in the middle of the street, dazed and bleeding from a fireworks mishap. Faraday rushes the boy to the emergency room and saves his life, and as a result becomes friendly with the boy’s parents Oliver (Timothy Robbins) and Cheryl Lang (Joan Cusack) whom he’s never before met, despite living across the street from them. Michael’s son, Grant (Spencer Treat Clark) becomes fast friends with Brady, and Michael’s girlfriend, Brooke (Hope Davis), takes a quick liking to them, but when Oliver’s story about his job and the details of his personal history don’t check out, Michael begins to be plagued by nagging suspicions about the family across the street.

As Michael begins to investigate Oliver’s background, it puts him at odds with Hope who feels that his grief over his wife’s death and the course he teaches have made him paranoid and susceptible to his fears. Oliver becomes aware of Michael’s suspicions and confronts him, which puts some of Michael’s fears to rest, but as other events begin to transpire, he is haunted by a nagging terror that Oliver is aligned with a group planning another St. Louis-style bombing and may have had something to do with the first one…

Ehren Kruger’s screenplay for “Arlington Road” won an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship award in 1996 and was produced fairly quickly afterwards. Many Nicholl Fellowship scripts never get produced and while stuck in the limbo of development hell, they can end up the subject of those “best unfilmed scripts articles” The timeliness of the script, written just after the horrific Oklahoma City bombing, is important to the story and Kruger clearly bases the St. Louis bombing (that killed Michael’s wife) on it. One of the strengths of the film is that it doesn’t feel like a callous attempt to make a Hollywood thriller out of very real tragedy-- it feels like a fresh intellectual and emotional response to the event. It’s as if the Oklahoma City bombing profoundly changed the way Kruger (and we, as a country) looked at our neighbors and the people that may be moving among us with hidden, deadly agendas, completely unknown to us. Little did we realize back in 1996 that the horrors of Oklahoma City would be dwarfed by cataclysms yet to come. With that in mind, the shocking ending of the film is not only a punch in the gut, but is artistically valid and quite haunting. Any other ending would have been a trite cliché that, while comforting and pleasing, would have been wrong and would have rewritten the DNA of the film and betrayed the build-up of the preceding material. Director Mark Pellington delivers a riveting piece of work, starting off with a gripping scene that seizes the audience immediately and locks them into the film for the next two hours. The cast is excellent, with Jeff Bridges the standout in a role that requires a huge range of emotions. He throws himself into it and makes Michael’s growing terror tangible and believable. Hope Davis brings warmth to her role and Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack are suitably creepy as the Langs.

The film builds to such an excruciating fever pitch that the last half hour does go a bit over the top in excitement and intensity, but it’s a crucial part of the mosaic, and if you were to alter it, you’d damage the ending. The script is so tightly constructed that it’s difficult to think of removing or changing a part of it without causing other scenes and pieces to collapse the structure, but there is an off moment or two. The first part of the film hinges on the question of whether there really is a menace or is it just Michael’s paranoia that we’re privy to. Pellington and Kruger lose points, though, for revealing the truth about what’s going on too early, and it feels as if the sense of mystery could have been strung out even longer. A party sequence at the Langs’ house is filmed with all manner of Dutch angles and garish gelled lighting; it’s so heavy-handed that it feels like a scene from one of those paranoid “Is Your Neighbor A Communist?”-type short films prevalent in the 1950’s. It may be part of what director Pellington is going for, as the Langs are dressed and coiffed in a style reminiscent of a typical American couple from the 1950’s. While the costume design elements work, the dinner party scene is a step too far, and should probably have been toned down or reshot, as its obviousness shakes our confidence in the film a little bit, at a point in the story where it’s crucial that the audience is completely engaged.

The Blu-ray disc presents a stable image bright with accurate color values. It’s a softly colored film, with an overriding look of pale sunlit imagery, and the sequences with denser and more saturated hues are presented quite vividly with accuracy. The image is extremely pleasing and the detail of the actors’ skin texture on display is impressive. The PCM soundtrack is crisp and detailed with Angelo Badalamenti and Tomandandy’s music score given tangible, vivid atmospheric presence and weight which is well-served by the surround mix. The volume level is a bit hard to nail down and takes a little while before the remote can be put aside as one finds the need to adjust it several times during the first hour. Louder actions sequences have tremendous heft and solid LFE presence.

“Hidden Vulnerability: A Look Into the Making of 'Arlington Road'” is a featurette runs 20mins and is a solid making-of featurette, clearly assembled to be watched after the film as it contains reference to the denouement. The alternate ending is not a radically different ending, as one might expect (or as more timid viewers might hope for), but it adds a possibility to the epilogue without changing the conclusion. It’s video sourced.from what appears to be a workprint tape. The ending and the featurette have a rough analog look to them but are acceptable.

The commentary features director Mark Pellington with Jeff Bridges who, astonishingly, is seeing the film for the first time during the commentary session. Naturally, Pellington leads the discussion. It’s a warm commentary and the director is gracious and clearly appreciative of Bridges’ performance. Bridges is an active participant and the both discuss the making of the film, the thought behind individual scenes and what went into them, the intentions of the film and seriously discuss the real world horrors that the film is a reflection of and the natural human response to it. The “Arlington Road” Blu-ray release is solid release of a gripping, tragically prescient film.

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