In the past I’ve discussed thrillers that give away vital plot points such as The Island, but none so much as the film I’d like to address here. It’s one thing to reveal a pivotal plot twist or turn that tells of something we aren’t meant to know, but sometimes a trailer is released that’s so baffling that it’s hard to believe it was allowed to do so. However, no matter how ridiculous a trailer choice is, it can usually be traced to some sort of political agenda at the least.
Take Arlington Road for example. A thriller revolving around a college professor Michael Farraday (Jeff Bridges); a lecturer in terrorism that believes his new neighbour Oliver (Tim Robbins) is indeed plotting an act of terrorism.
*If you’ve not seen the film then the analysis that follows contains spoilers*
What the trailer reveals
The intention of the film is to play on tension, suspense and the usual thriller elements, which happen to work well in this movie particularly. The nature of how the trailer is put together is somewhat worrying though. Not only does it reveal the key component that makes the entire film viable, but comes across as a sly political based, media scaremongering exercise.
To make sense of my woes, I shall begin with the key component I refer to. A thriller, by its very nature, is intended to generate suspense, intrigue and tension leading up to specific reveals in the plot. A certain degree of ambiguity is usually enforced in order to retain its thrilling elements. Imagine if the big reveal is the death of your protagonist and you are aware of this before the title sequence. This knowledge would ruin the fundamental enjoyment of that you were about to experience.
Similarly with Arlington Road you have your central protagonist (Michael) suspecting his neighbour (Oliver) of terrorist activity. The excitement of the film is the journey our lead goes on to uncover the truth about his suspicions, whether it is paranoia or not. Points of interest that keep audiences guessing are queries such as:
- Is Oliver hiding his past?
- Is Michael merely paranoid?
- Is Oliver a terrorist or not? (the most important question)
Sadly, the trailer removes any ambiguity and intrigue as it cements the fact that Oliver is in fact a terrorist with a murky past. We’re shown him and his wife acting awfully suspicious, not to mention the hidden blueprints Michael finds in their home and the revelation of Oliver’s past all explicitly tell of his involvement with terrorism.
Now to me the film is based upon a plot that has a single aim of uncovering whether he’s a terrorist or not. That is the hook here, but seeing as the trailer has ruined the build up of the story for such a reveal, it’ll mean you’ll end up going through the motions until the inevitable reveal is exposed.
Secondly, the trailer appears to be concerned not with the film itself or advertising a thriller that could or could not be about terrorism. Its makers seem content to evoke fear in order to panic the masses and make sure they haven’t forgotten to be fearful of the subject matter. Even though it’s two years prior to 9/11, its aim appears to be to generate hysteria, with a compelled notion to tell audiences ‘it’s okay, he is the terrorist!‘, just so they can sleep at night.
Just about the only thing we’re not told is exactly how the film ends, which I guess is something. A missed opportunity to promote a neat little thriller, disguised as a device to warn and scare people over the real threat of terrorism. Or am I overreacting slightly?
Spoiler rating: 9/10