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It depends on your basis of judgment whether or not you will enjoy Arlington RoadZ, a suspenseful but convoluted Hitchockian yarn about neighborly suspicion. Critics and audiences tend to react different to this sort of movie, but if you are able to grasp the basic premise with depth and believability, you should enjoy yourself.
Jeff Bridges, looking rather frigid and tense, plays Michael Faraday, a university professor who teaches a class in U.S. terrorism. He has a nine-year old child heís raised since the passing of his wife, an F.B.I. agent who was killed in the line of duty. In a tense prologue, Faraday comes upon a boy on the street, injured and bleeding as he hobbles along helplessly. After driving him to the hospital, Faraday meets the boyís parents, the humble and reserved Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins) and his eccentric but caring wife (Joan Cusack). It turns out the Langís live just across the street from Michael, and the two families strike a bond.
But perhaps there is more to Mr. Lang than the friendly, overly-generous facade that he puts on. Faraday, a man so paranoid he could put Agent Mulder to shame, suspects something more of his neighbor. He starts digging, digs some more, and then canít stop extracting clues from Langís mysterious past. After discovering a name-change and scanning through the suspectís local paper, he comes upon the conclusion that Oliver Lang is a sophisticated terrorist bomber. His current girlfriend (Hope Davis) thinks heís a loon, but while his son plays with the Langís 10-year old boy who enjoys lighting firecrackers, Faraday becomes more overwrought with fear that something is not right.
To watch Arlington Road is to appreciate good acting. Bridges is terrific; a bit too extraneous, but terrific. And while Robbins and Cusack are both appropriately creepy, I wanted so much more from their characters, more exploration resulting in greater discovery. The latter, in particular, is left fairly one-note. And Tim Robbins has such great abilities, his character could have been stretched far beyond the limits itís taken. But his performance, though flawed, is still chilling.
Most viewers will be biting their nails to the nubs as Arlington Road nears the climax, but the suspense could have been greater. The script, which starts out too dreary and slow, contains so many convoluted plot details that a sense of unease sets in. Luckily, the action picks up and the suspense goes into overdrive during the final twenty minutes, leaving room for a very surprising and deviously clever finale. Some may find it unnecessary, but I actually found more to like in it than I did with the twisted 2 hours that preceded it. If Arlington Road had maintained a steady intellectual pace to support this climax, than perhaps there would have been more to relish in this entertaining but passable summer popcorn movie.
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