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The first scene starts off in a rather surreal manner, with intentionally blurry and disjointed photography and weird sound effects. The basic effect is that a young boy is stumbling down a suburban street, in shock, with a severely burned, bloody arm.
Jeff Bridges plays Michael Faraday, a college professor whose FBI agent wife was killed in a mistaken terrorist raid. He is now raising his young son Grant alone, but he has a new girlfriend, Brooke.
Michael appears in the first scene, scoops up the boy with the bloody arm, and takes him to the emergency room. Later, the boy's parents show up at the hospital, a seemingly nice couple with two other children. They live right across the street from Michael.
When their son, Brady, recovers from the bloody arm incident, he befriends Grant. But Brady's father, Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins), strikes Michael as just a little strange: an architectural engineer, he claims to be working on a shopping mall. But Michael, who knows nothing about architecture, notices plans that seem to be different from your usual shopping mall (at least in his opinion).
So begins the paranoid snooper's story. This is where Arlington Road loses some of its credibility. How anyone could be so stupid is beyond me. Michael repeatedly snoops around Oliver's home, and delves into his past history. He also is repeatedly caught snooping by one of the Langs and has to come up with quick excuses. Still, he uncovers some suspicious facts about Oliver's past, and begins to suspect that Oliver is a terrorist plotting to blow up a building.
I myself have done quite a lot of snooping through people's stuff (and unfortunately, I never discovered anything incriminating about anyone). In fact, I've never really found anything even remotely interesting. But I've never been caught either. You'd think Michael would have more sense.
Michael's girlfriend Brooke is no smarter. First she argues with Michael, insisting that his theory is crazy, which it does appear to be. Later, she spies on Oliver and notices him making some suspicious deliveries. So she calls Michael and leaves a message on his answering machine to the effect that she agrees with him, Oliver is probably a terrorist. And then Oliver's wife (Joan Cusack) walks up right behind her. (If Brooke were smart, she wouldn't have left such a specific message on a machine - duh.) I could really give these people some tips on being sneaky!
But it just so happens that Michael's paranoia is justified, and he soon discovers that he's caught up in a huge anti-government terrorist plot.
The suspense and action scenes were excellent, although one car chase scene could have been staged better. I enjoyed all the actors, and Arlington Road was well plotted. I was also impressed by the end - quit reading now if you don't want to know- in which the bad guys get away with blowing up the federal building, and Michael is framed. To have the bad guys get away with it in the end shows good originality in a movie. (Perhaps that's also what some people find disturbing - the bad guys walking around unchecked.) Despite Michael's ineptness, I found Arlington Road very entertaining.
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