Arlington Road is a 1999 neo-noir thriller film directed by Mark Pellington and starring Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, and Hope Davis. The film tells the story of a widowed George Washington University professor who suspects his new neighbors are involved in terrorism and becomes obsessed with foiling their terrorist plot. The film was heavily inspired by the paranoid culture of the 1990s concerning the right-wing militia movement, Ruby Ridge, the Waco siege and Oklahoma City Bombing.
|Directed by||Mark Pellington|
|Written by||Ehren Kruger|
|Music by||Angelo Badalamenti|
|Edited by||Conrad Buff|
Arlington Road Productions Corp.
|Distributed by||Screen Gems|
|Box office||$41.1 million|
Ehren Kruger wrote the script, which won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' (AMPAS) Nicholl Fellowship in 1996. The film was to have been originally released by PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, but the film's United States distribution rights were sold to Sony Pictures Entertainment for $6 million. The eventual release was the second title for Screen Gems (and its first wide theatrical release) while PolyGram (now part of Universal Studios) handled foreign rights. Tomandandy composed additional music in the film.
Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) is a widower and college history professor at George Washington University with a 10-year-old son named Grant (Spencer Treat Clark). One day, Michael encounters a boy, Brady (Mason Gamble), stumbling in the middle of a road in his neighborhood with horrific injuries to his hands. Michael takes him to hospital and meets the boy's parents Oliver (Tim Robbins) and Cheryl Lang (Joan Cusack), discovering they are his neighbors. They soon become friends, and their sons join the Discoverers, a Boy Scouts-style group.
Actions of the Langs arouse latent suspicion in Michael. Michael sees blueprints in the Langs' house which are not for the building project Oliver, a structural engineer, claims, and a wrongly delivered letter suggests he lied about where he attended college. When Michael laments the FBI's lack of contrition after his wife Leah (Laura Poe), an FBI agent, was killed in the line of duty, Oliver states that the government should be punished for its mistakes. Michael's girlfriend, Brooke (Hope Davis), and Leah's former FBI partner, Whit Carver (Robert Gossett), dismiss Michael's concerns as paranoia.
Michael takes his college class on a field trip to the site of the standoff in which his wife was killed, and passionately excoriates the FBI for failing to sufficiently investigate the besieged family, and for provoking the standoff. Michael's students appear uneasy.
Oliver tells Michael that Grant wishes someone could be punished for his mother's death, which again rouses Michael's suspicion. He discovers in archives that Oliver's real name is William Fenimore, and that he tried to blow up a post office in Kansas at age 16. He is seen by Oliver, who later confronts and berates him. Oliver states that he sought revenge on the government for causing his father's suicide, that he was imprisoned, and admits to changing his identity to hide his past from his children.
Michael appears to let the matter drop. However, a few days later, Brooke sees Oliver swap cars with a stranger in a parking lot, and follows him to a delivery depot where a number of metal boxes are exchanged. From a payphone, she leaves Michael a message that his suspicions may have been correct, but is discovered by Cheryl.
Michael learns of Brooke's (off-screen) death on the news, where it appears she died in a car crash. The next day, Michael inadvertently discovers that messages left on his answering machine had been erased. Again suspecting foul play, Michael phones Whit about Oliver/William and asks him to check FBI records, and records of calls to his home.
Michael visits the father of the late Dean Scobee, accused of blowing up a federal building in St. Louis, from where the Langs had moved. Dr. Scobee is certain his son was innocent since 10 children died in the bombing. Michael becomes convinced Dean was set up when he sees him in a photo with Brady, with whom Grant is on a Discoverer field trip, and rushes in a panic to retrieve him. Troop leaders tell him that Grant was taken home with Brady. Michael confronts Oliver at his home, where he confirms that his group killed Brooke.
The next day Whit accosts Michael, stating the FBI discovered nothing suspicious about Oliver/William or his acquaintances, and says that Michael's 'missing' telephone message was from a payphone. The following morning, Michael slips out of his house, rents a car under a false name, drives to the payphone where Brooke made the phone call, and sees a passing delivery vehicle. He follows it to its depot, where he sees some men he recognizes from Oliver's house, and from Discoverer photographs, loading metal boxes into the van.
Michael follows the van and is shocked to see Grant at the window. Oliver intercepts Michael's car and beats him, promising to kill Grant. Oliver expounds on his group's anti-government mission, and their current target: the FBI. Michael overpowers Oliver and drives to FBI headquarters, calling Whit to warn him.
Michael sees a delivery van at the gate to the FBI building and illegally pursues it into the secure parking garage, but discovers that it is a different van and is empty. Whit tells Michael that he is the only unauthorized person in the building. Michael rushes back to his own car, discovering a bomb in the trunk seconds before it detonates. The blast partially collapses the FBI headquarters, as Oliver watches from a distance.
A montage of news clips, which portray Michael as a lonewolf terrorist seeking revenge on the FBI for Leah's death, show that the Langs have successfully framed him. Statements from Michael's students (one of whom is a conspirator) support the official story, giving accounts of his erratic and paranoid behavior and implying that he held a dangerous grudge against the FBI. Grant, now orphaned, moves in with relatives, tragically unaware of his father's innocence.
In the final scene, Oliver and Cheryl have put their house up for sale and prepare to move to another suburban neighborhood where they will plan their next terrorist attack, as well as look for another fall guy to take the blame for their group's actions as they did with Michael Faraday and many others before him.
- Jeff Bridges as Michael Faraday
- Tim Robbins as Oliver Lang/William Fenimore
- Joan Cusack as Cheryl Lang/Fenimore
- Hope Davis as Brooke Wolfe
- Robert Gossett as FBI Agent Whit Carver
- Spencer Treat Clark as Grant Faraday
- Mason Gamble as Brady Lang/Fenimore
- Stanley Anderson as Dr. Archer Scobee
- Laura Poe as FBI Agent Leah Faraday
Sony paid $6 million to acquire the film's United States distribution rights. It opened at #6 in its opening weekend with $7,515,145 behind American Pie, Wild Wild West's second, Big Daddy's third, and Tarzan and The General's Daughter's fourth weekends. The film eventually grossed $24,756,177 in the United States theatrically.
The film made a worldwide gross of $41 million on a budget of $31 million.
The film holds a 63% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 91 reviews. with the site's consensus stating; "A suspenseful thriller led by strong cast performances built around a somewhat implausible story." and a 2/4 rating by Roger Ebert, who wrote of the film:
Arlington Road is a thriller that contains ideas. Any movie with ideas is likely to attract audiences who have ideas of their own, but to think for a second about the logic of this plot is fatal.
- "Arlington Road (1999)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
- Weekend Box Office Results for July 9-11, 1999 - Box Office Mojo
- Arlington Road (1999) - Box Office Mojo
- Arlington Road (1999) - Box Office Mojo
- Arlington Road - Rotten Tomatoes
- Ebert, Roger (9 July 1999). "Arlington Road". RogerEbert.com. Chicago Sun-Times.