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The Best Movie You Never Saw: Arlington Road

06.21.2013

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be examining the thriller ARLINGTON ROAD, starring Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins.

THE STORY:

A college professor (Bridges) still dealing with the loss of his wife in a FBI sting operation, begins to suspect that his new neighbor (Robbins) may be a terrorist. As paranoia begins to set in, the professor spirals into an obsessive investigation, which leads him on a dangerous path that puts him and those he loves in jeopardy.

THE PLAYERS:

Music video director Mark Pellington directed the film, from the script by Ehren Kruger, which won the Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting competition, making it only the 6th winner of the award ever to be produced. Jeff Bridges plays Max Faraday, the obsessive college professor, Tim Robbins is William Fenimore, the suspicious neighbor, Joan Cusack is Fenimore’s wife, with Hope Davis playing Faraday’s girlfriend. Rounding out the cast is Mason Gamble (RUSHMORE) as Fenimore’ son, Spencer Treat Clark (GLADIATOR) as Faraday’s son, and Robert Gossett as the former FBI partner to Faraday’s deceased wife.

THE HISTORY:

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger wrote ARLINGTON ROAD, winning the Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting competition, which effectively helped to launch his career. Within a year of winning, director Mark Pellington became attached with the intent of making it his first feature. Tim Robbins was initially cast, but everything hinged on Jeff Bridges involvement. Literally everything, right down to one of the first script meetings, where Bridges would become the catalyst for the film being made.

“…As we're sitting there going over the dialogue page by page, the studio head gets a phone call. And then he says, "Okay, I just heard from Jeff Bridges' agent. Jeff is apparently out driving around Santa Barbara, thinking it over. Here's the deal: we've gone to a few actors who've passed on this part. I've looked at the list, and there are a number of actors we could go to after Jeff, but I really don't want to make the movie with them. So if Jeff says yes, we'll make this movie. If he says no, I'm pulling the plug and canceling production."

Then without missing a beat he says "Now on page sixty eight here, this line of dialogue—do you think we could change this to something else?"

And the director and I just looked at each other, realizing that at that moment, the fate of the entire movie revolved around a single actor driving around Santa Barbara, deciding whether he wanted to play this role or some other role, or maybe just hang out with his family and surf two months from now.”  – Ehren Kruger

The film was released in July 1999 and brought in a worldwide total of $41 million from a $31 million budget. It received decent reviews, although many critics found it to be implausible (which is certainly is at certain points). Had the film debuted after 9/11 it’s likely that their reviews would have had a different viewpoint. 

WHY IT’S GREAT:

ARLINGTON ROAD was, unfortunately, ahead of its time. It’s a film that tackles themes that were not yet as prevalent in society as they are now, American or otherwise. The film focuses heavily on the idea of how much we actually know about our neighbors, even something as simple as a name. The central theme is the threat of homegrown terror, but it’s built around the notion of what we view as plausible vs. implausible. In a pre-9/11 world, the film serves almost as a cautionary tale, one that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Jeff Bridges is the perfect everyman here. He plays ordinary to a tee. Bridges plays the smart professional with a quiet intensity unlike anyone else and it fits the role of Max Faraday perfectly. Tim Robbins, in contrast, plays the dual-personality of William Fenimore with a mysterious and menacing presence, aptly bouncing between all-around friendly neighbor to crazed and obsessed terrorist with ease. It’s a role you don’t see Robbins jump into much, but his steely-eyed gaze is as strong as ever here.

The dynamic between Bridges and Robbins is the glue that keeps the film going. It’s a really fun cinematic pairing, especially with such conflicted personalities, which is aided tremendously by Mark Pellington’s direction. He treats this much like a Hitchcockian thriller with harsh lighting and sharply tuned aesthetics. Quick cuts, intense close-ups, cleverly maneuvered camera moves, and deftly used slow motion make this much more than your standard fare thriller, which is evident from the opening scene.

“Yeah, I responded really strongly to the script right away when I read it. It was one of those situations where the writer was always ahead of you. The twists and turns were amazing. I read it completely cold, didn't know anything about it. It was a wonderful read just for that reason.” - Jeff Bridges

Bridges is a haunted character, working as a college professor teaching a class on terrorism, which is indirectly tied to the death of his wife, who was killed in a F.B.I. operation gone wrong. Bridges is obsessed with the case, as well as another one, which mirrors the Oklahoma City Bombing almost exactly (the filmmakers changed the location to St. Louis). Although he is attempting to move on with his life and trying to raise his son, played by Spencer Treat Clark, and balance a new girlfriend (Hope Davis), he can’t shake the obsession over his wife’s untimely death.

After helping Tim Robbin’s son (Mason Gamble) when he is injured in a “fireworks” accident, Bridges befriends his neighbors, who he struggles with understanding why he’d never met them before. The kids become quick friends, prompting regular household visits, where Bridges starts to grow suspicious of his neighbor, who keeps blueprints of major landmarks in his home as “a hobby” and continues to get mail sent to him under a different name.

Bridges’ Faraday talks to his girlfriend about this, but she is resistant, acting as the “voice of reason” that most of us have in suspicious situations. She attributes his obsession to the loss of his wife and the terrorist course he teaches, but never stops to think that he may be right. It’s a similar sentiment that existed so strongly in the pre-9/11 world and although I wouldn’t say we’ve become actively suspicious of everyone, we’re certainly more aware today than ever before of the threat that exists, even in our own backyard. It’s no longer a subject brushed off as if it could never happen.

In a particularly tough scene, Faraday takes his class on a “field trip” to the location of the compound where his wife was killed and “relives” the event, which features a brutal recreation that’s narrated by Farraday, who paints the scene with details that leave one with the notion that he feels bitter and betrayed.

The death of a significant character ends up putting Faraday on a more intense search for the truth, which leads him to connecting dots he never thought possible. Like the best thrillers out there, it continuously builds with relentless anxiety (driven home with a great score by Angelo Badalamenti and Tomandandy), twisting and turning as Faraday finds one clue after another before discovering the ultimate truth. By the time he does, however, Fennimore has kidnapped his son, using the boy as blackmail. Faraday turns to his wife’s former partner in the F.B.I. (Robert Gossett) for help, but as the noose gets tighter and Faraday get’s deeper into the conspiracy, there’s no one he can trust, even himself.

The gut-punch that is the film’s ending will leave you breathless. Seeing the movie in the theater in 1999, I remember walking away feeling both shock and awe. Shock because of how the film ended and awe that Hollywood even let it get made. It is the very picture of a non-Hollywood film, which left many audiences of that time with a bad taste in their mouths. Today, however, the film plays much differently as our sensibilities, awareness, and general feelings about the threat of terror, either on our own soil or abroad is something that has touched many of our lives deeply.

“The whole film is about our vulnerability and how susceptible we are to threats and that evil does exist and that we can’t deny that” – Mark Pellington

In this, ARLINGTON ROAD truly lives up to both a movie ahead of it’s time and too soon for its time. It’s stuck between tragedies (Oklahoma City and 9/11) and rings powerful to those emotions. You won’t see a movie like this play in theaters today. The closest you’ll get is WHITE HOUSE DOWN, and I think we all know how that will end. ARLINGTON ROAD isn’t a fun crowd pleaser, but a parable about our modern condition in a society ripe with the threat of terrorism and a movie that’s unafraid to let you feel that.

MEMORABLE SCENE:

The pulse-pounding, nail-biting, anxiety-inducing climax is by far the most memorable scene. It begins as an exciting chase and slowly turns into a suspenseful shocker that wrenches your gut by the time it all plays out, leaving you angry, sad, and, ultimately, amazed that the filmmakers and the studio even got away with it.  I won’t share that final moment here, because it would ruin it for those who haven’t seen the film, but I’ll include a part of it just to give you an idea.

WATCH IT:

ARLINGTON ROAD is available on blu-ray and digital download. Get it here!

PARTING SHOT:

“To me it was a great experience, it was a great learning experience, I’m proud of it and I believe that it’s something that has value in terms of integrity as a film. It’s not just a cheapo, cynical piece of garbage that was designed just to make money…Anytime you rub against reality, whether it’s a reality that happened five years ago or something that happened recently, you’re gonna touch nerves.” – Mark Pellington

Extra Tidbit: Be sure to Like, Share, Tweet, and Strikeback on The Best Movie You Never Saw!
Source: JoBlo.com

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-1
7:33AM on 11/30/2013

A patsy

This is a good primer for How To Make A Patsy. Think: Lee Harvey Oswald.
One thing to watch for in the movie. There are 2 red cars in the car chase. This threw me off a bit until I realized it was supposed to be the same red car. Other than that, what a great movie. Joan Cusack is eerily frightening, too.
This is a good primer for How To Make A Patsy. Think: Lee Harvey Oswald.
One thing to watch for in the movie. There are 2 red cars in the car chase. This threw me off a bit until I realized it was supposed to be the same red car. Other than that, what a great movie. Joan Cusack is eerily frightening, too.
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4:42AM on 08/03/2013

Crazy

The most shocking ending to any movie I have ever seeen. I saw it in theaters and till this day I still can't believe that they were allowed to end the movie that way. I need to rewatch this. Awesome!
The most shocking ending to any movie I have ever seeen. I saw it in theaters and till this day I still can't believe that they were allowed to end the movie that way. I need to rewatch this. Awesome!
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9:17PM on 06/22/2013

I remember watching this movie with my father when I was a kid.

I was probably too young to appreciate it (or to be allowed to watch it... oh well), but he loved it, so naturally, I loved it. I don't remember the plot points so I'm looking forward to a rewatch now!
I was probably too young to appreciate it (or to be allowed to watch it... oh well), but he loved it, so naturally, I loved it. I don't remember the plot points so I'm looking forward to a rewatch now!
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+3
11:32AM on 06/22/2013

Great Movie !!!

Arlington Road is one of the best thriller's of the 90's. And that's thanks to Pellington superb job and an exceptional performance by the cast. Again i salute your choice Paul. (Internal Affairs with Richard Gere & Andy garcia or Hombre with the great Paul Newman, are my recommendations for the future).
Arlington Road is one of the best thriller's of the 90's. And that's thanks to Pellington superb job and an exceptional performance by the cast. Again i salute your choice Paul. (Internal Affairs with Richard Gere & Andy garcia or Hombre with the great Paul Newman, are my recommendations for the future).
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12:14PM on 06/22/2013
Internal Affairs is in the queue. Awesome movie. Great choice, my friend.
Internal Affairs is in the queue. Awesome movie. Great choice, my friend.
8:54AM on 06/22/2013

One of the best films of the 1990's!

This is of my favorite films! For me it put Mark Pellington on the map as a director to look for. Later he made THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES and HENRY POOLE IS HERE. Both good films but nowhere close to AR. Thanks for bringing some awareness to it. It deserves it! How about BRINGING OUT THE DEAD next? Just a thought.
This is of my favorite films! For me it put Mark Pellington on the map as a director to look for. Later he made THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES and HENRY POOLE IS HERE. Both good films but nowhere close to AR. Thanks for bringing some awareness to it. It deserves it! How about BRINGING OUT THE DEAD next? Just a thought.
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1:43AM on 06/22/2013
WOW 2 weeks in a row of the movie i have seen for this column! I really enjoyed the heck out of this movie, it was very suspenseful & had some great actng from both Bridges & Robbins. I think this movie had one of the better twists because it was one you never saw coming. I think it was much stronger than both Sixth Sense & Fight Club twists. Seems 99 was the year of the twist endings.
WOW 2 weeks in a row of the movie i have seen for this column! I really enjoyed the heck out of this movie, it was very suspenseful & had some great actng from both Bridges & Robbins. I think this movie had one of the better twists because it was one you never saw coming. I think it was much stronger than both Sixth Sense & Fight Club twists. Seems 99 was the year of the twist endings.
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12:07AM on 06/22/2013
Terrific thriller. Just so well put together. The ending is mainly notable for going against the grain of pretty much every Hollywood thriller before or since, something I had been waiting to see happen, but didn't expect at all. It's not the best scene in the movie, but it's the one that tells us they're not messing around.
Terrific thriller. Just so well put together. The ending is mainly notable for going against the grain of pretty much every Hollywood thriller before or since, something I had been waiting to see happen, but didn't expect at all. It's not the best scene in the movie, but it's the one that tells us they're not messing around.
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+2
10:32PM on 06/21/2013
Loved the story, loved the atmosphere just an all around great thriller.
Loved the story, loved the atmosphere just an all around great thriller.
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+2
9:53PM on 06/21/2013
This is my all time favorite movie (As you can see in my Movie Fan Central profile, under Favorite Movie, it sure as hell says Arlington ROad) The concept of the mvoie is one that I have been obsessed with even prior to seeing this moviewhen it was first released, and then this movie came out and it was exactly the type of movie I wanted to see (Who are your neighbors?!)

Also for Best Scene, As much as i love the ending, I have to say the best scene in this movie (and in my opinion, one of
This is my all time favorite movie (As you can see in my Movie Fan Central profile, under Favorite Movie, it sure as hell says Arlington ROad) The concept of the mvoie is one that I have been obsessed with even prior to seeing this moviewhen it was first released, and then this movie came out and it was exactly the type of movie I wanted to see (Who are your neighbors?!)

Also for Best Scene, As much as i love the ending, I have to say the best scene in this movie (and in my opinion, one of the greatest scenes of any movie) is the Backyard scene when Tim RObbins confronts Jeff Bridges after he catches him looking him up in the Kansas City Star! That is an acting class all in itself!
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8:39PM on 06/21/2013

i hate this movie...

so very much...
so very much...
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6:18PM on 06/21/2013
I really liked seeing this in the theater when it came out and the ending was a total gut punch. That was the summer that started the twist ending trend. Arlington Road was the first then the Sixth Sense came out a month or so later then Fight Club a couple months after that. Since then however nearly every twist ending you can see coming a mile away.
I really liked seeing this in the theater when it came out and the ending was a total gut punch. That was the summer that started the twist ending trend. Arlington Road was the first then the Sixth Sense came out a month or so later then Fight Club a couple months after that. Since then however nearly every twist ending you can see coming a mile away.
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4:30PM on 06/21/2013
I was quite disturbed by the ending, it was the first time I saw a film end like that
I was quite disturbed by the ending, it was the first time I saw a film end like that
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1:57PM on 06/21/2013

Hells Yeah!

Arlington Road was awesome when it came out and it is awesome today. I thought this was going to be like Blown Away but this is much better. Ahead of its time indeed.
Arlington Road was awesome when it came out and it is awesome today. I thought this was going to be like Blown Away but this is much better. Ahead of its time indeed.
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+4
12:40PM on 06/21/2013

Good pick

Always really liked this movie and felt it was insanely underrated. The ending is one of my favorites as I was, as you wrote, shocked and awed at how the movie concluded. Ballsy and brilliant stuff.
Always really liked this movie and felt it was insanely underrated. The ending is one of my favorites as I was, as you wrote, shocked and awed at how the movie concluded. Ballsy and brilliant stuff.
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12:21PM on 06/21/2013
I really enjoyed it and loved the ending.
I really enjoyed it and loved the ending.
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+2
12:03PM on 06/21/2013

Very good movie

I watched this at the theater and, at the time, hated the ending; which I guess is the point.
I watched this at the theater and, at the time, hated the ending; which I guess is the point.
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11:55AM on 06/21/2013

Saw it in the theater, try again...

This like the fifth week in a row you guys have picked a movie I have seen more than once.
This like the fifth week in a row you guys have picked a movie I have seen more than once.
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12:23PM on 06/21/2013
I think many of you are taking the title too literal. Read the description of the column at the top. I'm not trying to dig and find the most obscure movies that you've never seen. Here's the description from the header:

"Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time or has aged like a fine
I think many of you are taking the title too literal. Read the description of the column at the top. I'm not trying to dig and find the most obscure movies that you've never seen. Here's the description from the header:

"Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time or has aged like a fine wine."

Love the feedback and interest, but this isn't about digging into the depths of obscurity. Visitors to this site are going to normally be better versed in film than others. That said, there will always be at least one person who has seen any movie I'd put up here.

So, relax. Enjoy. It's not a competition. This column exists purely to talk about some fun, cool movies that you may or may not have seen. There's plenty of columns out there that are jumping on the movie nitpicking bandwagon. This is something meant to distance itself from that and focus on celebrating movies, rather than tearing them apart.
11:54AM on 06/21/2013
I saw it and I thought it sucked.
I saw it and I thought it sucked.
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+3
11:42AM on 06/21/2013

Yes!

I literally showed this to a friend of mine two weeks ago and he loved it. I saw it when it first came out and man was the ending a punch to the gut. Good choice!
I literally showed this to a friend of mine two weeks ago and he loved it. I saw it when it first came out and man was the ending a punch to the gut. Good choice!
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11:35AM on 06/21/2013

great

Great little movie, with a heartpounding cilmax.
Great little movie, with a heartpounding cilmax.
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11:06AM on 06/21/2013
Good movie. But not a good choice for this column. Again.
Good movie. But not a good choice for this column. Again.
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-8
11:01AM on 06/21/2013
Did not care for this movie. From what I remember, it plods along for most of it. Sure, the ending was unique for the time, but it leaves you feeling hollow, like "What was the point of that again?"
Did not care for this movie. From what I remember, it plods along for most of it. Sure, the ending was unique for the time, but it leaves you feeling hollow, like "What was the point of that again?"
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10:33AM on 06/21/2013

Great Movie

I remember watching this when I was really young, I think I had just started high school when this came out. I thought even then that it was a great thriller but couldn't get on board with the ending. But having watched it post-9/11 it certainly takes on a new life and meaning for me now. And the ending is excellent, I think it fits perfectly with themes and ideas that were explored in the movie. I don't really get what you mean that certain aspects of the movie were inplausible though,
I remember watching this when I was really young, I think I had just started high school when this came out. I thought even then that it was a great thriller but couldn't get on board with the ending. But having watched it post-9/11 it certainly takes on a new life and meaning for me now. And the ending is excellent, I think it fits perfectly with themes and ideas that were explored in the movie. I don't really get what you mean that certain aspects of the movie were inplausible though, maybe just the part that he's a college professor teaching a class on terrorism and talks about the bombing in which his wife was killed, but that's about it. Given the context of the movie and also given other movies involving terrorism, completely believable that a terrorist would live under the guise of an ordinary life while orchestrating a terrorist act. Even the terrorist act itself is believable, as it's something that's been done quite a few times in the past, both in real life and in movies.
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11:03AM on 06/21/2013
Without giving away any spoilers, the ending set-up that leads Bridges to the "building" would take an almost psychic level of planning from the terrorists. It doesn't bother me or inhibit my viewing of the film, as I just chalk it up to these terrorists being master strategists, but at the same time, you have to look at in a "how would they know that he would do this/that" kind of way.

Again, it's small potatoes to me, but to some viewers it may be difficult to get around (as it was for
Without giving away any spoilers, the ending set-up that leads Bridges to the "building" would take an almost psychic level of planning from the terrorists. It doesn't bother me or inhibit my viewing of the film, as I just chalk it up to these terrorists being master strategists, but at the same time, you have to look at in a "how would they know that he would do this/that" kind of way.

Again, it's small potatoes to me, but to some viewers it may be difficult to get around (as it was for critics in 1999). Thanks for the strikeback, sir!
10:21AM on 06/21/2013
***SPOILER ALERT***
An underrated thriller. I was basically at the edge of my seat right up until the moment Jeff Bridges drove the car into the building parking lot. And everything just turned upside down. It really left you breathless with that ending.
***SPOILER ALERT***
An underrated thriller. I was basically at the edge of my seat right up until the moment Jeff Bridges drove the car into the building parking lot. And everything just turned upside down. It really left you breathless with that ending.
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10:21AM on 06/21/2013
Seen it, I liked it.
Seen it, I liked it.
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10:14AM on 06/21/2013

I Wasn't A Fan of This Film

My sister enjoyed the hell out of it though. I did only watch it once though. Maybe I'll give it another try.
My sister enjoyed the hell out of it though. I did only watch it once though. Maybe I'll give it another try.
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11:08AM on 06/21/2013
I like your sister already.
I like your sister already.
1:12PM on 06/21/2013
Of course you do. My sister is awesome!
Of course you do. My sister is awesome!
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