Arlington Road is a terrific film. From the gripping opening scenes, it is a psychological and political thriller that is suspenseful, stylishly directed, and superbly acted. But the amazing plot twist at the end raises it to something much higher.
I am sad that I did not hear about this movie when it was released. But it turns out that Arlington Road was shelved by the studios for a year before release, and it was not effectively promoted. I can see why: From the point of view of Hollywood’s overall propaganda line, it goes “off message” in a major way.
Director Mark Pellington is apparently a white man who is primarily known for his music videos.
Jeff Bridges plays Michael Faraday, a widowed professor of American History at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He lives in a McMansion subdivision in Northern Virginia, where he is raising his nine year old son Grant.
Faraday’s research focuses on domestic terrorism, with a special focus on patriotic militia groups. His interest can justly be deemed an obsession, and he has a very personal motive. His wife, an FBI agent, was killed three years before in a botched FBI raid/standoff that is an amalgam of the Ruby Ridge and Waco incidents.
It is remarkable that this incident is presented as a mistake by the government. The target of the raid was a law-abiding firearms collector who had just applied for a dealer’s license (shades of Waco), but the FBI charged in, killing the target’s wife and young son (shades of Ruby Ridge). This is the first way in which the film goes “off message.” (You’ll have to see the movie to learn about the other ways.)
Faraday is portrayed as a neglectful father and a bad neighbor. He does not even know the Lang family across the street until he finds their son Brady covered with blood after an accident. Faraday rushes Brady to the hospital (he recovers) and as a result becomes friends with Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusak).
The friendship seems off to a good start. Grant and Brady become playmates when Brady is released from the hospital.
But Faraday begins to suspect that Oliver Lang is not who he claims to be. He begins to investigate Lang and discovers that he is really named William Fennimore and that he was imprisoned when he was 16 for sending a pipe bomb to the Bureau of Land Management. (The bomb never went off.) His motive was resentment against the federal agency that destroyed his family’s livelihood and drove his father to suicide.
Fennimore/Lang finds out that Faraday is on to him, and there is an emotional confrontation in which he explains himself, seemingly resolving the issue between them. Faraday even turns to the Langs for solace when his girlfriend Booke is killed in a car accident.
The misgivings, however, begin to mount again. Faraday begins to suspect that Fenimore is behind an Oklahoma City-style bombing of a Federal building in Saint Louis, a bombing that had been blamed on a single suicide bomber.
Lang, however, is one step ahead. He kidnaps Grant, holds him hostage, and tells Faraday that all he has to do to get his son back is be a good neighbor for a couple of days. Lang is clearly planning another bombing. Faraday, of course, tries to stop the bombing and rescue his son. But actions often have unintended consequences . . .
I highly recommend this film. It is suspenseful and well-made, but beyond that it provides much food for thought.
To my mind, the biggest question is the identity and motives of the bombers. They are portrayed as ordinary suburban white people who have beefs with the federal government. They are not portrayed as racists or White Nationalists, but they are all white, and the whites in the movie have a definitely “majority American” look, with names like Fennimore and Faraday. The only black character is an FBI agent, the former partner of Faraday’s wife.
Perhaps the best reason to think they are not White Nationalists is that they are part of a large, well-funded, well-organized network that is adept at strategic chess games and psychological profiling. Harold Covington could have come up with a plot like this, but nobody in the WN world could ever bring it off.
Of course the people who made this movie might not know that. Arlington Road might be merely the projections of paranoid left-wingers who have made us out to be something we are not.
But another interpretation suggests itself: Lang and company work for the government. They are the ultimate “controlled opposition”: terrorists spawned by the system in order to justify the creation of an ever-tightening surveillance state.
The Langs have Federal law enforcement written all over them. They are a nice, white family that moves around the country frequently, going from one safe, manicured subdivision to another. Dad is a bit vague about what he does for a living. Mom stays at home with the three kids. They seem to have plenty of money for a comfortable upper middle-class lifestyle. And when one job is completed, the “for sale” signs go up, and they await word on where they are being transferred next. Cheryl says “I hope it is someplace safe.” Oliver answers “Always.”