Warner Bros. // 1993 // 112 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 1st, 2009
Are we falling apart?
"Now you're going to die, wearing that stupid little hat. How does that make you feel?"
Bill Foster (Michael Douglas, Romancing the Stone) is having a very bad day. He has just lost his job, his wife has left him, and things are generally just miserable. Tired of putting up with the misery everyone on the planet earth seems intent on dispensing to him, Foster decides to get payback. Over the course of a single day, his behavior becomes increasingly reckless and hostile. Before long, he begins to attract the attention of the local police department. A detective named Prendergast (Robert Duvall, The Godfather) spends his last day on the job attempting to figure out just what this maniac is up to. How long will it be before Foster's rapidly escalating deranged behavior does some permanent damage?
I love the way that Falling Down opens: with a close-up of Michael Douglas' face. He looks tense and sweaty, and he's stuck in traffic. The cars aren't moving, and Douglas pays close attention to everything around him. He hears people yelling on their car phones, smells the exhaust fumes of the cars surrounding him, feels a fly crawling on the back of his neck, and sees an insulting bumper sticker on the car in front of him. It's a tremendously effective, atmospheric sequence that fully immerses us in Bill Foster's mental state. Like him, we yearn to be free of this audiovisual oppression. Douglas gets out of the car and leaves. "Hey, where are you going?" the guy behind him demands. He's going on a mission of vengeance, though he may or may not realize it. Foster seems to be a man on a mission, as he does everything his does with focused determination, but he seems to be making up the mission as he goes along.
Falling Down is a dark comedy that does a nice job of finding a balance between psychosis and cynical humor. The laugh-to-cringe ratio shifts slowly over the course of the film, as the earlier moments are unquestionably entertaining while the later moments become rather disconcerting. Foster does not take the predictable path of taking out his rage on his employers and family. Rather, he goes on the warpath against the minor inconveniences of life, the things that annoy us all but that we are absolutely powerless to do anything about. Charging 85 cents for a can of Coca-Cola? Foster will smash up your convenience store a little to see if you're willing to change your mind. Do you stop serving breakfast at 10:30? Oh, you'll go ahead and offer him breakfast anyway once he's set you straight. Rude golfers willing to put him in danger for the sake of keeping their game going? You don't even want to know.
The film represents a high point for several people involved, not least of which is director Joel Schumacher. The helmer of such films as Batman and Robin, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Number 23 has deservedly received a lot of flack over the years, but this film is as smart and engaging as those aforementioned films are bloated and irritating. It's a tight, well-crafted film that boasts savvy direction and a nuanced screenplay. Speaking of which, Falling Down was written by actor Ebbe Roe Smith, whose only other feature writing credit is Car 54, Where Are You, currently one of the 100 worst-rated films of all time on IMDb. How on earth did this film turn out as well as it did? Just about everything clicks here, and the film has rarely seemed more relevant than it does now. In a time of economic crisis, the story of a man melting down in the wake of losing his job seems timely, and there are several scenes that could have been ripped out of today's newspaper. Consider a moment in which an African-American man on the street protests that his employers told him he was, "not economically viable."
Michael Douglas is an actor who has slid comfortably between ambitious drama and standard-issue thrillers. This one falls firmly in the former camp, and Douglas offers a performance that deserves to stand alongside his great work in films like Wall Street and The War of the Roses. His calculated explosiveness is nothing short of magnetizing, and he steals every scene he appears in. He has somewhat less screen time than the average leading man, as there are nearly as many scenes focusing on the aftermath of Foster's actions as there are on, uh, Foster's actions. In a key supporting role, Robert Duvall excels in the clichéd part of an aging cop taking on one last job. Schumacher and Smith seem to recognize the worn-out nature of the role, playfully acknowledging the obvious danger Duvall is in due to his impending retirement. The always-solid Barbara Hershey is good as Foster's ex-wife, but she doesn't have much of interest to do.
Warner Bros. has done a fine job with the transfer here. I've seen the film on several occasions, but not until seeing it in hi-def did I realize what a distinct visual vibe the film has. The sepia-toned hues here are conveyed in a very pleasing manner, and the level of detail is excellent throughout. Blacks are nice and deep, flesh tones are accurate, and contrast is reasonably satisfying. Considering that this film was made over 15 years ago, I was pleased to note that there are virtually no scratches, flecks or smudges of any sort. On the other hand, the audio is something of a disappointment. For some reason, we only get a 2.0 Dolby TrueHD rather than a 5.1 remastering. Hmm. The audio is crisp, clean, and reasonably well-balanced, but it lacks the punch that a hi-def audio track deserves. Too bad.
Some new special features have been produced for the new "Deluxe Edition" DVD and Blu-ray, but they're surprisingly thin. You get an audio commentary with Joel Schumacher and Michael Douglas (who recorded their comments separately) and a 10-minute video conversation with Douglas, and a theatrical trailer. Also, this Blu-ray disc is given the deluxe "digibook" packaging that includes 34 pages of pictures, production notes, critical praise, and quotes from the movie. Judge David Johnson makes some valid complaints about this sort of packaging in his review of the Batman Blu-ray disc, but I find it fairly attractive.
Though the ending is appropriate, most viewers will see it coming a mile away. Additionally, Duvall's wife is a shrill minor character that represents one of the few one-dimensional aspects of the film.
Falling Down is a ferociously satirical vigilante film that still holds up remarkably well. This Blu-ray disc is a considerable upgrade from previous DVD releases, earning it an easy recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated R