If you’ve ever had neighbors who were so apple-pie normal that you knew they were nut jobs, Arlington Road is just the suspense ticket to feed your paranoia. The reliably excellent Jeff Bridges stars as Michael Faraday, a college prof who harbors enough conspiracy theories to shame Oliver Stone. Michael, whose FBI-agent wife was killed two years ago in a shootout with a white-militia group, teaches a course in homegrown terrorism but otherwise tries to live a normal life in a suburb of Washington, D.C., with his young son and his graduate-student girlfriend (Hope Davis).
Then the Langs — architect Oliver (Tim Robbins) and cheery housewife Cheryl (Joan Cusack) — move in across the street. Michael meets them when he rescues their son, Brady (Mason Gamble), after seeing the boy stagger down Arlington Road with burns allegedly sustained from a fireworks experiment. Michael is skeptical, natch, but the Langs are so darn friendly.
For me, the movie generates real excitement when the Langs reveal their true colors. Robbins expertly works his sinister streak, and Cusack — a sublime comic actress — turns her grin into a threat with uncanny effectiveness. Director Mark Pellington (Going All the Way) pushes all the right anxiety buttons. But the often implausible script, by newcomer Ehren Kruger, thinks it’s making big statements about America in the aftermath of Oklahoma City. Not so. Here the charge of exploiting real-life tragedy for escapist entertainment — unfairly leveled at Summer of Sam — is a better fit.