(1999) Thriller (Screen Gems) Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Robert Gossett, Mason Gamble, Spencer Treat Clark, Stanley Anderson, Viviane Vives, Lee Stringer, Darryl Cox, Loyd Catlett, Chris Dahlberg. Directed by Mark Pellington
With all the sociopathic behavior that goes on these days, it’s hard enough to Love Thy Neighbor. Heck, most of us don’t even know our neighbors; we’re all so wrapped up in our lives. Who has the time? But after seeing this movie, I suspect some of us will make the time.
Jeff Bridges is Dr. Michael Faraday, who teaches a course in American Terrorism at George Washington University. Bridges is, bluntly put, a mess. His wife, an FBI agent, had recently been killed in a Ruby Ridge-like incident. He’s shacking up with a grad student and, oh yes, his son is drawing more and more inward.
One day he comes across a neighborhood boy stumbling down the middle of the street and realizes the kid has blown a hand off. Bridges rushes the kid to the hospital and there meets the parents who happen to live close by. As played by Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack, they seem a nice normal American family. Robbins and Bridges hit it off, and they soon become friends.
Still, this is a movie and as time goes by, Bridges becomes suspicious of his new best friend, discovering that his buddy has changed his name to hide some very disturbing incidents in his past. Eventually, Bridges suspects that the family next door may be responsible for an Oklahoma City-like bombing. But is it Bridges’ own paranoia, fueled by the loss of his wife in a senseless tragedy, or is Robbins actually a card-carrying loon with a dangerous agenda? The ending surprised even me.
The cast here is pretty impressive. Cusack is always watchable, although she seems a bit stifled in a role that might have suited a less quirky actress. Robbins is very impressive. For the movie to work, he has to convince you that he’s a nice guy building a dream life for himself and his family AND that he’s a cold, calculating killer capable of blowing children into small bits. You have to decide which the character truly is. If you can’t believe in both versions of the character, the movie becomes formulaic, but Robbins doesn’t let that happen.
Pellington creates a very believable suburbia, even if Bridges at times gets too strident for his own good. There are moments that sing with tension, while others are so mundane you’re lulled into a false sense of security. That’s what a good thriller is supposed to do.
Although there are times I think the filmmakers are a bit too influenced by Se7en and not enough by Poltergeist (a movie which very effectively portrayed horrific events happening in a normal environment), the filmmaking is otherwise solid and the ending is very satisfying, surprising even. After watching this, I’m making a point of getting to know my neighbors better. A lot better. Just as soon as I sign off the computer. Really.
WHY RENT THIS: Fine performance by Robbins. Well-made thriller that creates believable suburban atmosphere and lulls one into the mundane before shocking you with something awful. Great ending, one I didn’t see coming.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cusack seemed a bit too restrained in a role that might have suited a less quirky actress better.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a goodly bit of violence and some bad language.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Jeff Bridges character was named for a real scientist, Michael Faraday. The street the movie filmed exteriors on was named for him.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $41.1M on a $31M production budget; the movie was a flop.
FINAL RATING: 7/10