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IN SHORT: A great summer popcorn flick for adults. [Rated [R], 119 minutes]
Cranky saw it in his eMail a couple of weeks back; it started just around the time of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me to be precise. Messages from adults, all asking "where are the movies for us?" What's the expression? "Be careful what you wish for, for you may get it?" Arlington Road fulfills the wish. With fine performances from the principal actors and a pace set by director Mark Pellington Arlington Road builds the tension to levels that will keep you glued you to your seat. There's a catch, but I'll save it for later.
Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) teaches a course at George Washington U. on the history of domestic terrorism. Acts like the Oklahoma City style "IRS bombing" in St. Louis, the action of one disgruntled taxpayer. But the act was too devastating, too complex to be carried out by one man say the cynics. Or the fubar FBI raid at Copper Creek, which got 3 innocent civilians and one FBI agent, his wife Leah, killed. The Feds thought they had uncovered a terrorist cell but it was just a bunch of survivalist gun dealers working legal. Too many guns. Too suspect. Fear on one side of the fence. Paranoia on the other. Dead innocents in the middle.
Faraday has survived the two years since, raising his son Grant and taking a new woman, a former student (Hope Davis) into his life. One fine afternoon he finds Brady Lang, a boy about Grant's age, wandering in the middle of the street, his arm burned horribly and blood flowing everywhere. The horrific accident opens the film with a top notch bit of direction and editing and leads to the intro of Brady's parents, who live in the house across the street. Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins) is a structural engineer, who reconstructs shopping malls. Cheryl (Joan Cusack) is a churchgoing housewife. Normal, good neighbors.
Little things about Oliver's life lead Faraday to think there is something more there. Mail from U. of Penn, when Oliver says he attended Kansas State. Blueprints for an office building when Oliver says he's redesigning a shopping mall. Faraday's sixth sense is kicking up something fierce. Something sinister, perhaps? He finds that Lang has changed identities after an earlier arrest for an attempted pipe-bombing. Faraday asks his wife's FBI partner Whit (Robert Gossett) for help, but none is forthcoming. The FBI can't do investigations, legally, without cause. All Faraday has are paranoid impressions which, of course, make the FBI suspicious. Lang discovers what Faraday is doing and confronts him with a reasonable explanation for everything that has been uncovered. End of any normal story.
Then people near and dear to Faraday start dying or disappearing. And that's all I'll tell you.
The pairing of Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins, as friends and/or foes, generates great electricity. As Bridges falls ever deeper into his paranoid fantasies (which may be true) and Robbins comes clean about his illicit past and fresh start (though he may be lying through his teeth) Arlington Road leads you by the hand into a terrible and shocking end. But hats off kudos must go to Joan Cusack, who plays her character so straight that you're never quite sure which side of the fence -- good guy or bad guy (sic) -- she is. Until it's too late, that is.
Conspirati will have the time of their lives at Arlington Road which is, at its roots, derived from the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was an innocent man manipulated to be at a certain place at a certain time so that he could be framed for the murder of John F. Kennedy. By the time the film hit its final credits, people sitting around me were muttering Oswald's name. Cranky's take, honestly, was relief that JFK wasn't mentioned in the film at all. There's a point early on where I thought it was coming (long term readers know of my friendship with Gerald Posner and involvement with "Case Closed", so you know where I stand) and was prepared to dismiss the flick as conspirati nonsense. But Arlington Road doesn't go there (thanks to scriptwriter Ehren Kruger) and, as a summer entertainment, it entertains mightily.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Arlington Road, he would have paid...
Better than average dateflick. Apply a little Vulcan logic to the story, once it's all done, and Arlington Road falls apart like tissue paper in water. Take Cranky's advice: Don't think too much. That's all that popcorn movies require to deliver a fine time.
And if you want to see how conspirati theories waste away under the cold light of legal eagle analysis, Cranky recommends you pick up a copy of Case Closed by Gerald Posner.
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