DIRECTOR: Mark Pellington
Contains MAJOR Spoilers!
Arlington Road is a small time movie which if you blink and you missed it back in 1999, but may come across late one night when nothing else is on. But this offers more than that. This film is attempting to flesh out the persona of those responsible for domestic terrorism in the U.S., a hot topic coming two years before 9/11 and at a time when there was a lack of understanding as where terrorism in any guise was heading the U.S. in the 1990’s.
1993 saw the first World Trade Center bombings, with 1996???? the Oklahoma I.R.S. attack, the most relevant to this story and that at round the time of release, the Al Quada attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. Little did we know that when films such as Arlington Road, The Seige (1998) a year earlier, the most relevant precursor to 9/11 where being made that this film’s tagline telling us that our next door neighbour could be a terrorist, that it may well be true.
But this film focuses much more on the domestic avenue, the idea that “normal” people with an atypical political agenda in the U.S. could be conspiring to commit atrocities right under their noses and there is no way to read them. But the other issues here are to do with the way that agencies, such as the F.B.I. gather their intel, using the Red Flag principle of people attracting attention themselves by buying large consignments of guns for example, whilst failing understand the nuances of the situation.
This is told through the perspective of Jeff Bridges, a college professor teaching Terrorism, but his first wife was an F.B.I. agent who was killed because of F.B.I. intel errors. This has left him somewhat disillusioned about the agency but not against it. Meanwhile, his new neighbour, Tim Robbins and his family raise his suspicions that he may be an extremist but he is not raising any Red Flags. He is perfect but Bridges refuses to give up trying to pursue the truth.
He is of course a terrorist and part of a larger movement who will frame Bridges and set him up to commit the atrocity at the end. The film then takes his profile as a man, bitter against the F.B.I. for the death of his wife as he is turned by the media into a “lone nut”. The ideas that the lone nuts probably do not really exist and that they are just “patsies”, as Lee Harvey Oswald claimed.
This is well conceived thriller with strong messages about misinterpretation and the idea that media’s villains my not be as presented, but is let down by its direction at times. Mark Pellington seems to take a stagey view too often, quite literally at times, as he uses some very dubious lighting techniques to emphasise some of the films more poignant moments.
I like this one, it’s small, driven by strong performances by the leads, especially Bridges,who the film ultimately hangs on, but the writing is good too. If anything it is somewhat over directed and I feel that it a lesser actor guiding us through, this would be unduly forgettable. But in light of the events of the intervening 15 years, this is well worth and watch and offers a startling insight into how we view terrorism.
And it’s right…