Arlington Road (1999)

(In French, on Cable TV, November 2015)  Some movies are made before their time, and I really wonder if Arlington Road would have been a more unnerving film had it been released three (or more) years later.  There is, of course, a definite mid-nineties vibe to the proceedings, drawing from the Oklahoma City bombing to Ruby Ridge and Waco in setting up an anti-government domestic terrorism rationale: Three years later, the American national paranoia would be obsessed about foreign-driven terrorism.  Adding foreign involvement to Arlington Road would have muddled an already preposterous plot that draws equally upon unlikely coincidences, comically evil plans, superhuman levels of deception by the antagonist and plans that would have a near-impossible chance to succeed if this wasn’t a movie.  There’s emotional manipulation nearly everywhere, and at times it’s hard to believe that anyone in the cast, even Tim Robbins and Jeff Bridges, can keep a straight face pushing the story forward.  On the other hand, well-executed ludicrousness has a believability of its own, and so Arlington Road has the decency to remain interesting on a pure “OK, what will happen next?” level, egging us on to the next unlikely plot point.  I’m not sure that it helps that the film is so determined to get its downbeat ending: you can forgive a lot more silliness if it’s all neatly wrapped with a happy bow.  It makes for a more-memorable-than-average thriller, but it doesn’t necessarily make for a better one.

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