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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Superior Cast Makes Thriller a Winner




NEW YORK -- The disturbing and nuanced "Arlington Road'' asks an important question: Do you have a right to know about the guy who lives next door?


In this case, the guy next door to Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) is the amiable but shadowy Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins). Their sons are the same age, and they share the easy prosperity that comes with living in an immaculate suburban neighborhood of fresh-scrubbed kitchens and manicured lawns.


But, as is usually the case, there are darker corners of this block. The streets are forever empty, making them seem threatening. And they are.


Faraday, a political science professor who teaches a course on terrorism, is a widower, left so when his FBI agent wife was killed in a Ruby Ridge-type siege in West Virginia. Shopping-mall architect Lang ? though both he and his wife, Cheryl (Joan Cusack), appear to be archetypal, cardigan-wearing, outdoor-grilling suburbanites ? seems a little off, as if he's trying to hide something.


The ensuing story is a labyrinthine ride through the back corners of late-1990s America: the militia movement, anti-government sentiment, the indoctrination of the far right. Faraday goes on the hunt, trying to dig up more about Lang and his background, while still maintaining an uneasy, tentative friendship with the family that illustrates the hollowness of community bonds.


Director Mark Pellington ("Going All the Way'') keeps things muted and deliberately paced for much of the film, lending unease to the story and making it all the more shocking when a deafening ending unfolds.


Bridges and Robbins are both at their best in "Arlington Road.'' Each cultivates subtleties that make his character believable and human. Robbins is especially understated but intriguing. He could either be the victim of some nasty misinformation or a truly evil man. He's a complex guy with a variety of motivations; if he is a terrorist, he's probably going to have a pretty good reason for it.


Bridges' portrayal of a good, sane, educated man coming gradually unhinged is harrowing and never overplayed. He's given a foil in his skeptical girlfriend Brooke (Hope Davis), who thinks it's utterly ridiculous to suspect the next-door neighbor of being a terrorist.


Cusack, known primarily for her comedic talents, takes a sharp turn here into drama, and the results are rewarding. She should have been doing this kind of stuff a long time ago. And Robert Gossett's prerequisite good-guy FBI agent provides a moral center when other characters spin out of control.


"Arlington Road'' is essentially a suburban paranoia thriller, David Lynch fare blended with a Robert Ludlum film. The icons of the militia movement are everywhere, from a bombed St. Louis federal building that stands in for the Murrah building in Oklahoma City to the Ruby Ridge-style flashback scene. All paint a picture of an America that is not what it purports to be ? even in the quiet, forever-sunny suburbs of Michael Faraday's life.


"There are just these times when you realize your life is out of your hands,'' he says.


Overall, "Arlington Road'' succeeds as a taut thriller whose muted beginning lends real punch to its stunning, unexpected finale.


? Ted Anthony