Much of the shock impact of Arlington Road is diminished by the fact that its vision of normal, suburban life looks like a foreign country. The basis of the movie - that Faraday believes his neighbour is an anti-government terrorist - plays on the fear that internal enemies of the state can strike anywhere at any time, a relatively recent fear to American audiences. Yet with a generation of troubles in Northern Ireland, bombing and terrorist attacks have been part of life for longer than most people care to remember.
With that in mind, the characters in (and residents of) Arlington Road do seem to be making an awfully big song and dance about their certainly strange, possibly dangerous new resident. Robbins' pudgy face and piggy eyes make him a perfect image of suburban everyman malevolence, perfectly casting him as the friendly yet odd neighbour, backed up by an equally convincing performance of "cookies, anyone?" normality from Cusack. And all the while Faraday, his mind slightly frazzled by the recent death of his FBI wife, continues to slowly unwind...
The problem with Arlington Road isn't with the universally impressive cast, or even the premise; it's how the story's handled. From the shock opening of the little boy, the pedestrian pacing of the growing friendship leading to growing suspicion is only rarely interrupted, most often by curiously jarring flashback sequences. And the second the film's over, you can instantly come up with gaping plot holes that render the course of events stupidly unlikely and impossible. While certainly worthy of video rental, or catching on late-night TV, it barely qualifies for the price of cinema admission.
Well acted, often tense and certainly atmospheric, Arlington Road falls into that oft-frequented thriller pit of setting up a great idea but then failing to deliver a satisfying final third. A competent, unremarkable film.
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