This edgy peek behind America's suburban curtains has an interesting twist: archetypal good guy Robbins is the villain, and Bridges is the hero, Michael Faraday, a lecturer at a Washington, D.C. college, who lives in nearby Arlington with a young son and trophy girlfriend (Davis). In a brilliant opening scene, he rescues a boy from the bloody aftermath of a fireworks accident, then meeting the parents, who recently moved to a home very near his, and later learns that Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Robbins and Cusack) have a strange brood. His life troubled by memories of his FBI wife's death in a terrorist attack several years earlier, Faraday is convinced that a big terrorist event couldn't have been the work of an isolated loner, and he doubts the official theories. Then, a string of increasingly bizarre occurrences leads him to believe his new neighbors in fact are undercover terrorists plotting a huge explosion at a major downtown target.
The picture flounders a bit through talk-filled scenes that don't adequately advance the plot, and relies on weird camera angles and grainy flashback. But it's rescued at last, in part by its genuinely inspired casting. Who could suspect the innocent-looking Robbins when the not-always-trustworthy Bridges is living next door? Are the wholesome couple really up to something so bad? Or is terrorist-fixated Faraday merely delusional? With excellent performances from the two leads and Cusack s a creep in a supporting role, the second half of the movie -- packed with great car chases -- dares to throw in unexpected, amoral twists.
A conspiracy thriller that begins well and makes good points, its characters have to shoehorn too much information, esp. Faraday as he lectures, narrates slide shows, and takes his students on field trips. In fairness, some of the movie's implausible parts can be explained when the movie's done and viewers can rethink the plot. The movie's underlying insights will certainly make you think. But there must be a way to incorporate well-drawn, well-acted characters into a movie that doesn't force its audience to squirm in disbelief. Any movie with good ideas will attract audiences with ideas of their own, so someone on the production side should think further on how to put more logic into this movie's plot.
Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Hope Davis, Joan Cusack, Robert Gossett, Mason Gamble
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