A lecturer becomes convinced his neighbours are terrorists.
This edgy peek behind the net curtains of American suburbia has an ace up its sleeve in its role-reversal casting - namely, putting archetypal good guy Robbins in the shoes of the villain while handing the heroics over to the far more unpredictable Bridges. And while the film doesn't quite hit the heights that might be signposted by such an enticing twist, it remains a gamble that pays off.
Bridges is Michael Faraday, a lecturer at a Washington DC college, whose home idyll in neighbouring suburb Arlington, with small son and trophy girlfriend (Hope Davis) is marred only by memories of his FBI wife's death in a terrorist attack some years back. When, in a brilliantly distorted pre-credits sequence, he rescues a local boy from the bloody aftermath of a firework accident, he soon befriends the lad's parents, recently arrived suburbanites Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Robbins and Cusack), and their Stepfordesque brood. Which, as it happens, is a bad move, as a string of increasingly strange occurrences lead Faraday to believe that his new-found pal, for all his backyard barbecues and unthreatening grey sweaters, is in fact an undercover terrorist, one who's plotting some seriously explosive mischief at a major downtown target.
Pellington's decision to focus on a slow, sinister build-up after the excellent opening is ill-judged, as the picture subsequently flounders through a string of talky, sluggish set pieces that do little to advance the plot. And his reliance on weird angles and grainy flashbacks is more irritating than atmospheric. Yet Arlington Road is rescued from oblivion by its genuinely inspired casting - who would suspect the innocent-looking Robbins (complete with the worst wardrobe in recent cinema) of cooking up an almighty gunpowder plot when the not-always-trustworthy Bridges is living next door? Are the wholesome twosome really up to no good? Or is the terrorist-fixated Faraday merely delusional? With excellent against-type performances from the two leads, Cusack's creepy, criminally underused supporting turn and a final reel packed with cracking car chase sequences while actually daring to throw in an unexpected and amoral twist, the film eventually, just about succeeds.
At the very least, it'll leave you wondering what the folks next door are really gettting up to in their spare time.