Arlington Road

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Arlington Road
Arlington Road film.jpg
Arlington Road film poster
Directed by Mark Pellington
Produced by Tom Rosenberg
Sigurjón Sighvatsson
Written by Ehren Kruger
Music by Angelo Badalamenti
Cinematography Bobby Bukowski
Edited by Conrad Buff
Distributed by Screen Gems (US)
Universal Pictures (International)
Release date
July 9, 1999
Running time
118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $31 million
Box office $41.1 million

Arlington Road is a 1999 American drama mystery thriller film which tells the story of a widowed George Washington University professor who suspects his new neighbors are involved in terrorism and becomes obsessed with foiling their terrorist plot. The film was heavily inspired by the paranoid culture of the 1990s concerning the right-wing militia movement, Ruby Ridge, the Waco siege and Oklahoma City Bombing. The film stars Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, and Hope Davis and is directed by Mark Pellington. Ehren Kruger wrote the script, which won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' (AMPAS) Nicholl Fellowship in 1996. The film was to have been originally released by PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, but was sold to Sony Pictures Entertainment before it opened. The eventual release was the second title for Screen Gems while PolyGram (now part of Universal Studios) handled foreign rights. Tomandandy composed additional music in the film.


Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) is a widower and college history professor at George Washington University with a son, Grant (Spencer Treat Clark). While driving he encounters a boy, Brady (Mason Gamble), staggering in the road with horrific injuries to his hands. Michael takes him to hospital, and meets his parents Oliver (Tim Robbins) and Cheryl Lang (Joan Cusack), discovering they are his neighbors. The families soon become friends, and their sons join the Discoverers, a Scouts-style group.

Actions of the Langs arouse latent suspicion in Michael. Michael sees blueprints in the Lang's house which are not for the building project Oliver, a structural engineer, claims, and a wrongly delivered letter suggests he lied about where he attended college. After Michael describes impersonal treatment from the government after his wife, an FBI agent, was killed in the line of duty, Oliver states his belief that the government should be punished for its mistakes. Michael's girlfriend, Brooke (Hope Davis), and his wife's former FBI partner, Whit Carver (Robert Gossett), dismiss Michael's concerns as paranoia.

Michael takes his college class on a field trip to the site of the standoff in which his wife was killed, and passionately excoriates the government for failing to sufficiently investigate the besieged family, and for provoking the standoff. Michael's students appear uneasy.

Oliver tells Michael that Grant wishes someone could be punished for his mother's death, at which Michael is again suspicious. Michael discovers in archives that Oliver's real name is William Fenimore, and that he tried to blow up a post office in Kansas at age 16. He is seen by Oliver, who is incensed and later confronts him, condemning his presumption of judgment. Oliver states that he sought revenge on the government for causing his father's suicide, that he was imprisoned, and admits to changing his identity to hide his past from his children.

Michael appears to let the matter drop. However, Brooke later sees Oliver swap cars with a stranger in a parking lot, and follows him to a delivery depot where a number of metal boxes are exchanged. From a payphone, she leaves Michael a message that his suspicions may have been correct, but is discovered by Cheryl.

Michael learns of Brooke's (off-screen) death on the news, where it appears she died in a car crash. He discovers inadvertently that messages left on his answering machine had been erased, and again suspects foul play, telling Whit about Oliver/William and asking him to check FBI records, and records of calls to his home.

Michael visits the father of Dean Scobee, accused of blowing up a federal building in St. Louis, from where the Langs had moved. Dr. Scobee is certain his son was innocent since 10 children died in the bombing. Michael becomes certain Dean was set up and panics when he sees a photo of Dean in a Discoverer troop with Brady, with whom Grant is currently on a field trip, and rushes to retrieve him. Troop leaders tell him that Grant was taken home with Brady. Michael confronts Oliver at his home, where he confirms that his group killed Brooke, and implies that Grant will be killed if Michael tries to involve others.

Whit accosts Michael the following day, stating the FBI discovered nothing suspicious about Oliver/William or his acquaintances, and says that Michael's 'missing' telephone message was from a payphone. The next day, Michael drives to the payphone where he sees a passing delivery vehicle. He follows it to its depot, where he sees men he recognizes from Oliver's house and from Discoverer photographs, loading metal boxes into the van.

Michael follows the van and is shocked to see Grant at the window, and gives chase. Oliver intercepts Michael's car, causing a crash, and beats him, saying Michael will not see Grant again. Oliver expounds on his group's anti-government mission, and their current target the FBI. Michael overpowers Oliver and drives to FBI headquarters, calling Whit to warn him.

Michael sees a delivery van at the gate and illegally pursues it into the secure parking garage, but discovers that the van has a different driver and is empty. Whit tells Michael that he is the only unauthorized person in the building. Michael rushes back to his own car, discovering a bomb in the trunk seconds before it detonates. The blast partially collapses the FBI headquarters, as Oliver watches impassively from a distance.

In a montage of television news clips, Michael is portrayed as a lonewolf terrorist who had sought revenge on the FBI for his wife's death. Statements from his students (one of whom is a conspirator) support the official story, giving accounts of his erratic and paranoid behavior and inferring that he held a dangerous grudge against the FBI. Grant, now orphaned, moves in with relatives, tragically unaware of his father's innocence.

The final scene implies that the Langs, who successfully misdirected law enforcement, will soon move house in preparation for another attack.



Box office[edit]

On a US$21.5 million budget,[1] the film made a worldwide gross of $41,067,311.[2] It opened at #6 in its opening weekend with $7,515,145 behind American Pie, Wild Wild West's second, Big Daddy's third, and Tarzan and The General's Daughter's fourth weekends.[3]

Critical response[edit]

The film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike. The film holds a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes[4] and a 2/4 rating by Roger Ebert.

DVD release[edit]

The film was initially released on October 26, 1999 by Columbia TriStar Home Video. The DVD was reissued in Superbit on February 12, 2002 by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.


External links[edit]