By Brian Saur
David Mamet's answer to AGE OF INNOCENCE is one way I might categorize this film, but that wouldn't be quite right. I would say, though, that if you are a fan of Scorsese's period masterpiece, you may find this one of interest. It's actually the second adaptation of the Terence Rattigan's 1946 play, which was apparently inspired by true events circa 1908.
The tale here is set in 1911 and follows the Arthur Winslow family and the commotion that is stirred up around Christmastime. Winslow (Nigel Hawthorne) is a London banker who is preparing to celebrate the engagement of his daughter (Mamet's real-life wife Rebecca Pidgeon), when the celebration is interrupted by the abrupt return of his 13-year-old son, Ronnie, from The Royal Naval College, where he had been a cadet. He has been expelled by the powers at the college based on an accusation that he stole a five shilling money order.
Professing his innocence of the charge, Ronnie is taken in by his family. His father, seeing an injustice having been carried out, hires a very prestigious barrister – Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam) – to help clear his son. What follows is a fascinating and mesmerizing courtroom drama that plays outside the courtroom as well as in and, in combination with the repressive civilized customs of the period, makes for a powerful watch for sure. So powerful indeed that I believe I called it out as my favorite film of the year at the time. It is still quite a spectacle and one of my favorite "legal films" that I can think of along with things like THE VERDICT, 12 ANGRY MEN, and so forth.
Performances by Nigel Hawthorne, Pidgeon, and Northam are highlights, but I also like that Pidgeon's real brother was cast as her brother in the film and he is also a solid actor.
A sadly all-but-forgotten thriller these days (and another Hope Davis movie by the way). She plays girlfriend to a widowed Jeff Bridges in this modern take on Hitchcock. Sorry, I know folks always drag Hitch in whenever somebody makes a decent suspense film, but in this case, I really think it applies.
The story here deals with terrorism – Jeff Bridges' character teaches a class in it and begins to suspect his neighbor (Tim Robbins) is up to something not-so-above-board and starts to conduct his own little investigation – and this kind of thing can be very problematic for characters in movies to do. That said, I feel like this is the kind of movie and subject matter that Hitchcock might have been doing if he were still around in the late ‘90s. I also think it would make an interesting pairing with one of my underrated favorites of his in SABOTEUR. I also feel some heavy PARALLAX VIEW vibes from this and that would be an equally interesting double bill with it.
ARLINGTON ROAD isn't perfect by any means – it has a pretty sharp third act turn, but overall it's grounded by Bridges and both Robbins and Joan Cusack (playing his wife) are effective in their roles as well. It also stars the kid from UNBREAKABLE (Spencer Treat Clark, who just popped up again in GLASS) in a small part. I think I was even more pulled in on my rewatch this time as I'm now a parent and wasn't even close to that mindset back in '99.
It's quite a tense bit of business all told and well executed by director Mark Pellington (who would go on to an even better next film with THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES in 2002). Writer Ehren Kruger would go on to a lot more familiar projects from SCREAM 3, THE RING, and the underrated SKELETON KEY, to three TRANSFORMERS movies and even Tim Burton's DUMBO remake from this year.
I only recently saw this one for the first time and I am kicking myself for not having sought it out sooner. I certainly saw the VHS cover on the shelves of my video store, but I must have written it off as one of those unfunny comedies that the featured players of things like SNL did in the waning years of their popularity. This is not that. This is an extremely funny film that takes a Kids In the Hall sketch kind of premise and makes it work at feature length.
Dave Foley (who also co-wrote) plays an oaf idiot who, after being passed over for a promotion at work, decides to charge into his boss's office to give him a piece of his mind. During his tirade, he soon realizes that his boss has been murdered and he begins to freak out and grab the murder weapon and generally douse himself in crime-scene blood. Fearing he'll be blamed for the deed, he goes on the lam – not realizing that the actual killer was caught on video murdering his boss, effectively clearing him of all potential charges. So he continues to attempt to hide out from the cops and much wackiness plays out. Scenes we've seen in tons of other "on the lam" movies are flipped on their heads and generally made fun of as the story unfolds and becomes more and more heightened and ridiculous as it goes.
Prior to this film, I found Hartley to be a hard guy to get on board with. Back then, his films like SIMPLE MEN just seemed like pretentious tripe to me and I could not see the appeal. My tune has changed over the years, but this was the one that grabbed me first and caused me to go back and start to reappraise his work, which I am very glad to have done. Parker Posey fans take note – she's unsurprisingly great in this. HENRY FOOL is also the movie that introduced me to James Urbaniak, and for that I am also grateful.
Brian Saur is a podcaster and blogger from Los Angeles that specializes in cult and classic films. He is co-host of the Pure Cinema Podcast and also produces and hosts another show called Just the Discs, which focuses on Blu-rays. He has run the Rupert Pupkin Speaks website since its inception in 2009 and continues to highlight obscure cinematic gems there on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter (@bobfreelander, @justthediscspod, @purecinemapod), Facebook, or Instagram for more film recommendations.