Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Special Edition DVD
Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 2.35:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, single side-dual layer, 28 chapters, rated R, 119 min., $24.95, street date 10/26/99.
Directed by Mark Pellinton. Starring Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Robert Gossett, Mason Gamble.
A gripping contemporary thriller about the terrible truths that can hide behind everyday appearances, Arlington Road is an intense, edge-of-your-seat journey that reveals just how little we know about our friends and neighbors...
Widowed when his FBI agent wife is killed by a right-wing group, college professor Michael Faraday (Bridges) becomes obsessed with the culture of these groups-especially when his new neighbors, the all-American Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Robbins and Cusack), start acting suspiciously.
With each twist, the mystery deepens and the question looms - is Faraday just consumed by fear and driven by paranoia, or has a lethal conspiracy been born on Arlington Road?
To get to the truth, Faraday must delve into the disturbing world of these ordinary people living right next door. With each twist the mystery deepens and the question looms-is Faraday just consumed by fear and driven by paranoia, or has a lethal conspiracy been born on Arlington Road?
Suspenseful and provocative, the film weaves together the thematic strands of friendship and betrayal, trust and deceit, veiled congenial appearances and awful truths, not to mention the sometimes inseparable nature of good and evil.
What is it with trailers that appear way before the films are released? I understand this trend when it involves big-ticket items; certainly no one complained when previews for The Phantom Menace popped up about six months before the film would appear. I've also seen the preview for Sleepy Hollow many times and should be sick of it, but since I'm looking forward to it - gotta love Tim Burton! - and it's always specified an approximate release date, I'm not too bothered by it.
However, it's more annoying when the film in question is more obscure. Maybe it's just me, but I get more irritated by those examples just because of the vagueness involved. It gets to be a matter where I see the same trailer over and over and think "just release the damned thing already - you're killing me!"
This may be somewhat melodramatic, I suppose, but you don't know how many times I saw that obnoxious trailer for Mystery Alaska between fall of 1998 - when it first appeared - and fall of 1999 - when the movie actually hit the screens. I don't think I would have wanted to see the film anyway, but that stupid clip erased all doubt.
More mild was the case of Arlington Road, a thriller that I first saw previewed around the same time the Mystery Alaska trailer entered the multiplexes. While I didn't see the AR clip nearly as often as that of MA, it stuck with me for personal reasons. I live in the Washington, DC area, which is where the film takes place, and I happen to reside right off of a street called Arlington Drive. (Ironically, although Arlington is a city here in northern Virginia, I don't live in it and the film isn't set in it - go figure!) This personal connection made the trailer much more memorable and it also made the apparently interminable wait that much more frustrating.
After about eight months of trailers, AR finally opened last July and I gave it a look. I found it to be a decent thriller but one that disappointed me. Why? As pathetic as it may sound, I don't remember. I know it's only been a few months since I saw the film, but I can't for the life of me recall why exactly I didn't care for this movie.
Well, hopefully a reassessment will help me figure out this predicament, so I decided to give Arlington Road another screening, this time on DVD. (Memo to self: try to get to point of review quicker in future - may prevent additional reader suicides.)
After this second viewing, I'm still not wild about the movie, but it makes for a serviceable little thriller. I think my problems with Arlington Road stem from my feeling that the filmmakers try much too hard to stretch plausibility to make their points. This reaches its most extreme with the film's conclusion. I try not to mention "spoilers," so I don't want to discuss this ending in detail, but suffice it to say that matters are tied up in an unusual manner.
Normally I really like films that offer unexpected twists and conclusions, but there's something about the finale of AR that feels artificial to me. It felt like the filmmakers let their overriding themes of how danger can lurk right around the corner and the way people are manipulated to feel safe dictated events rather than the events following in a natural way. While AR definitely has some powerful moments and is sure to provoke thought and discussion, I simply felt that the filmmakers accomplished their goals through some fairly cheap and cheesy methods. AR feels like a thriller that aspires to a certain level of intelligence and creativity but it too often resorts to some tired attempts to jolt the audience.
Still, it's a fairly effective movie and it does its job professionally. It features an excellent cast, and while none of the actors involved do much to distinguish themselves, they also do nothing to detract from the impact of the film. Jeff Bridges' performance veers a little too heavily toward histrionics, but not absurdly so, and I think this is simply a matter of taste. Tim Robbins tends to make his character too conveniently spooky as well, but again, what I interpret as mistakes are subtle and nothing terrible; he still manages to do a good job with the part.
Ultimately, Arlington Road is a decent movie but not one that I think stands out in too many ways. It's fairly entertaining and provocative but you won't feel as though you've seen something really fresh and revolutionary.
Columbia Tristar (CTS) have done their usual nice job with the DVD release of Arlington Road. Like the film itself, nothing here is spectacular but it lives up to a generally high standard of quality. The film itself is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD. The picture has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
I found that AR looked very good but displayed a few flaws that detracted from the overall effect. I thought that the image generally looked very sharp and crisp but that the picture occasionally seemed softer than it should have; that fuzziness happened without any discernible reason. Although the print seemed free of any observable marks or spots, grain occasionally marred the image, and moire effects occur fairly frequently. Colors appeared very true and accurate, and black levels and shadow detail - very important in this film that uses a lot of dark scenes - seemed immaculate. It's not the best-looking DVD I've seen, but it's very satisfactory.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of AR was good but disappointing. The front soundstage worked reasonably well, with occasional spatial use of the forward three speakers, but those aspects of the mix didn't seem very ambitious. The quality of the audio was generally good; dialogue seemed slightly flat at times, but was always reasonably natural and intelligible. Effects occasionally betrayed a slight amount of distortion, but a very insignificant amount. Music sounded terrific and displayed a very good dynamic range; the score used the low end well and adds greatly to the film's creepy atmosphere. The rear channels seem underused. Directional effects are almost nonexistent, and use of the surrounds appears almost entirely limited to musical fills and vague ambiance. Overall, the quality of the track makes it work, but it seemed disappointingly uninvolving for such a recent film.
CTS have included a few tasty supplements on the AR DVD. First up is a good audio commentary from director Mark Pellington and star Jeff Bridges. It's a nicely casual affair, and it turns out this was the first time Bridges' had actually seen the final cut of the film, which makes for some entertaining moments since he's occasionally not sure what was kept and what was omitted. The two interact well and they provide a nice critique of the movie. Best aspect? Bridges' frequent slams on the too-revealing trailer; he often (appropriately) bemoans the fact that the preview gave away so much of the storyline.
More "behind the scenes" information is provided through a nice little featurette. This piece runs for 19 and a half minutes, which is short but is nonetheless much longer than the average puff piece. It covers the important areas of creating the films briefly but well and it should add to your enjoyment of the film. I was interested to note that this featurette explains why there was such a long gap between the presentation of the initial trailer and the movie's actual release; it turns out that AR was finished in October, 1998, and originally intended for a January 1999, release but that various external woes forced delays for its release. All in all, this piece is pretty good and was much better than I expected.
Another interesting piece of footage is an alternate ending for the film. It appears on the DVD along with an introduction from director Pellington; his narration runs for about four and a half minutes while the actual film clip takes about five minutes. Pellington explains the reasons why the alternate ending was shot but subsequently not used. The clip itself is decent but not as effective as the actual ending to the movie; it actually seems kind of silly and hokey.
The AR DVD also includes some old standbys. We see three different trailers. There's the one for AR that Bridges so disliked, plus ads for two of his older films: Last Picture Show and Starman. Biographies for three main cast members (Bridges, Robbins, and Joan Cusack) plus for Pellington appear. As is customary for CTS bios, these are extremely rudimentary and not very useful. Finally, the case includes some brief and informative production notes about the film.
While it's a decent to pretty good movie and the DVD is a nice piece of work on all levels, Arlington Road simply doesn't seem to be a movie that merits purchase. The good supplements make it more tempting, but the movie itself doesn't distinguish itself in many ways. Granted, it's hard for thrillers to maintain interest through additional viewings, but it can be done; AR just doesn't seem to be a movie that will hold up to extra screenings. This one seems like a good rental and that's probably about it.