Sony // 1999 // 117 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Sean Fitzgibbons (Retired) // November 5th, 1999
Your paranoia is real.
One of the year's best thrillers comes to DVD in grand Columbia TriStar style -- the special edition that is not really a special edition.
Don't be fooled by the sentence above, I love Columbia TriStar discs. In my opinion, most discs coming from this DVD studio are special editions, but very few are labeled as such. Thankfully, Arlington Road is another one of those discs. But lets not get ahead of ourselves...
As I sat down to watch Arlington Road I prepared for a long, drawn-out thriller with a large pay-off at the end. This expectation was immediately shattered by the rapid-fire opening sequence of the film. The first few minutes of the film sucks you into the storyline and allows for a lot of leverage later on -- when the film becomes dialogue-centric. In the beginning, the film's main character, Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) rushes to a hospital with an injured boy. After reaching the hospital Faraday encounters the boy's parents, Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack), who are very thankful for Faraday's assistance in helping their son. Faraday and the Langs, who are neighbors, quickly become close family friends and both of their children form strong bonds with each other. As the Langs learn more about Faraday's past, and his wife's untimely death at the hands of the FBI, their intentions turn dark as they coax Faraday to adopt their anti-government beliefs. Before long Faraday picks up on the Lang's ulterior motives and begins to find evidence that the Langs are hiding something from him. Thus Faraday embarks on an investigation of his neighbors and finds out what he has always feared...
From the start of the film, especially if you have seen the film's trailers, you know what to expect from each character, and that the Lang family is not what they appear to be. Nevertheless, the film holds your attention as Faraday pursues his investigation of his neighbors -- although you can easily deduce the outcome.
It seems to me that lately all I have been discussing in the movies I review are the endings, and Arlington Road is no exception. Tremendous end-of-the-film revelations can make a movie fly (The Sixth Sense) or have the film fall flat on its face (Fallen). However, Arlington Road falls somewhere in the middle with its ending -- I personally felt the ending was tremendously powerful, albeit a bit too clearly spelt out for the viewer, while others are left with an mixed feeling about the film.
All successful thrillers like Arlington Road are character driven. Tim Robbins is superb in the role of the dark Oliver Lang, while the casting of Joan Cusack as his wife was truly masterful. The ability of Joan Cusack to play the all American mother, yet subversively phony and just a bit too nice, suits her character perfectly. Jeff Bridges does a nice job as Michael Faraday, but the true stars of the film are Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack, everyone else just pales in comparison.
To top the film off, the story centers around very contemporary issues -- issues which almost seem to have disappeared in the past five years, and certainly should not. Our beliefs of terrorists and anti-government activists are extremely limited in focus to recluses and "red necks" hiding out in huge compounds somewhere in the mid-west or deep south. Arlington Road brings terrorism home, and although it seems only logical that these terrorists have always been among us it definitely is a fact that is frequently overlooked.
The disc itself is another great effort from Columbia TriStar. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image is best seen on a 16:9 display. Many poignant moments in the film play in shadows, very artistically, which demands a black level that is uncompromising. Thankfully, this transfer keeps the film's intended black level with no artifacting. However, watching the film on my 4:3 TV was quite different than on an anamorphic display, which I will detail later on. Mainly dialogue driven, Arlington Road does not provide a window-shattering 5.1 Dolby Digital audio mix. The few, mainly three, action sequences in the film use a small number of surround effects and contain some bass expansion, but otherwise everything seems to be focused in the forward soundstage. Dialogue is clear, accurately placed, and well balanced with the film's eerie score. Not the best audio track I have ever heard, but more than adequate for the film itself.
So what makes Arlington Road a special edition that's not really a special edition? The extra content, naturally. First and foremost, the film contains a stellar audio commentary from director Mark Pellington and actor Jeff Bridges. Some of the commentary tracks I listen to for these reviews are so incredibly boring I end up disliking the film more than I did prior to listening to some boring director drone on for two hours. Pellington and Bridges talk constantly throughout the audio track and really provide insight into the film, its making, and the characters. Both provide insight into how they intended the film to come across and how it actually turned out, which is quite interesting. This definitely ranks among the best commentary tracks I have heard on DVD. Also included on the disc is an alternate ending to the film, with a lengthy introduction by Mark Pellington, which was wisely not used in the film. A "making of" featurette is also included, but is not your typical self-serving type. Instead, the disc provides you with what amounts to a documentary on the film, running upwards of twenty minutes, that includes information on the making, release, and reaction to the film. You can easily see that this documentary was produced for the DVD and is not something that was aired on HBO months ago -- kudos to Columbia TriStar for putting in the effort here. Rounding out the extra content are a few trailers for Arlington Road as well as other Jeff Bridges films (Starman and The Last Picture Show), cast and crew biographies, and a two-page booklet with production information.
All in all, this is a package worthy of the "special edition" title that Columbia TriStar has decided not to place on the disc. However, if Columbia TriStar sees this as a standard package, then more power to them.
Possibly because my 16:9 display is so small I did not notice the picture problems I encountered when I watched the film again on a regular 4:3 TV set. While some scenes in the film come across crystal clear, many scenes come across as very soft, if not blurry. This softness becomes quite distracting but still, on a 16:9 display, I was not able to easily detect this.
The audio track too seems a bit reserved for some of the film's action sequences. I'd compare the track on Arlington Road to that of Mercury Rising. In a dialogue driven thriller I guess you cannot expect its few action sequences to kick into high gear and change the 5.1 track to something comparable to Terminator 2, but one can always hope.
Not a gripe for the film itself, but upon hearing the commentary track by Pellington and Bridges, Arlington Road is yet another film that is degraded by its advertising campaign. Too much of the film is given away in trailers and provide for very easy deduction for the outcome of the film -- but its final turn is definitely one that only the most film savvy viewers could predict.
Hi. This is your friendly editor speaking. I just watched this film last night and have to chime in here about one annoying feature of the movie, and it really signifies a trend in movie making, rather than a flaw in this particular film. But, if I see another opening credits sequence like this one, I am going to SCREAM! You know, the type. Herky, jerky. All flash. TONS of camera tricks. Split-mirror-240-degree lenses shot on overexposed silly string film stock using that new f-stop trick Eddie Van Halen taught me, you know the one. All of which results in an opening sequence worse than a bad music video? Yeah, that's it. Think Se7en for a minute. Remember the opening credits -- no? ah forget it! (Ed.)
Although the transfer for Arlington Road could have been better, Columbia TriStar delivers a feature laden disc of a terrific film that proves to be a great, and affordable, addition to any DVD collection.
Film and disc acquitted.
Review content copyright © 1999 Sean Fitzgibbons; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Notes
* Audio Commentary by Mark Pellington & Jeff Bridges
* Making of Featurette
* Alternate Ending
* Talent Files
* Theatrical Trailers