1999 Film Portending Today’s “Conspiracy-Fueled Climate”
Editor’s Note: Arlington Road was surely an uncommon Hollywood production in that it addressed “conspiratorial” subject matter, including false flag terror, blackmail by government agencies, the Patriot movement, and pedophilia, all in a not-so-thinly-veiled fashion. The film was developed in the shadow of Ruby Ridge, the Waco massacre, and the Murrah federal building bombing while also eerily anticipating the events of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent culture of paranoia and conspiracy the government response to those events helped shape. Arlington Road was also an artifact examined in James Tracy’s infamous Culture of Conspiracy class, which he taught as a tenured faculty member at Florida Atlantic University prior to being terminated for not reporting his protected speech to school officials posted on this personal blog .
(May 15, 2018)
Calling Arlington Road an unsung summer blockbuster admittedly stretches that category’s definition. A political thriller in the Parallax View mold, the film did get a wide release (in July 1999), but it was made for a relatively low budget and boasted decidedly mid-level stars: Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, and Hope Davis.
Nobody likely expected a box-office bonanza. Still, it underperformed even by that metric, finishing sixth on its opening weekend (even though the only other studio film to bow that week was American Pie), and received largely mixed reviews. In today’s conspiracy-fueled climate, the commercial and critical fate of a movie as deftly engineered and deeply cynical as this one might well be very different.
Bridges plays Michael Faraday, a history professor still mourning his late wife, who’d worked for the FBI and been killed in a Waco-style standoff. Seeking a playmate for his young son, Faraday is happy to meet new neighbors Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Robbins and Cusack), as they have a boy around the same age.
Soon, however, Faraday begins to suspect that this seemingly ordinary, exceedingly friendly couple is harboring some sort of dark secret. Some of the personal information they impart doesn’t check out, and as Faraday starts snooping around and keeping tabs, he discovers more and more discrepancies and inexplicable behavior. Eventually, he concludes that the Langs are homegrown terrorists plotting an attack.