Judge Christopher Kulik fell down while running to the video store to buy this film.
Our review of Falling Down (Blu-Ray), published June 1st, 2009, is also available.
The adventures of an ordinary man at war with the everyday world.
When released in 1993, Falling Down was met with an equal balance of positive and negative criticism. Roger Ebert thought highly of it, while Gene Siskel thought it was only fair, borrowing elements from too many earlier films. Leonard Maltin thought it was very well acted, but ultimately pointless. The movie split its audience in two, resulting in people being either annoyed or enlightened by its lead character's rampage through Los Angeles. There's no denying it's a tough movie to watch, but it has slowly (but surely) built a reputation which has garnered it a lot of respect, if not universal praise.
Over 15 years later, we now have a Deluxe Edition provided by Warner Bros. Is the studio overpraising the film a bit, or is it long overdue?
Facts of the Case
Bill Foster (Michael Douglas, The Game) is having a bad morning. He's stuck on an L.A. freeway, sweating profusely. There are noises all around him, which are frazzling his nerves. There's a fly in his car bugging him to no end. In short, the environment is literally eating away at his sanity. Within seconds, he does the unthinkable by stepping out of his car and walking away. A motorist behind him demands to know where he's going. Foster simply says, "I'm going home!"
At the exact same time, Detective Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall, The Apostle) is sitting in his own car not far behind Foster's. This is Prendergast's final day on the force, and he's only concerned with doing a good job and getting his final paycheck. Eventually he gets wind of several incidents happening in the center of gangland which garner his interest and he's determined to investigate, even though his superiors and fellow officers continuously tell him to back off.
Prendergast doesn't know Foster is the one causing all the trouble. To start, Foster ransacks a local convenience store run by a Korean immigrant, complaining of the extra high prices. He then runs afoul of some Hispanic gang members who are offended at his presence in their neighborhood. When he manages to survive a drive-by shooting by the gang, he takes all of their guns. This leads to a scene in a fast food joint, an intense meeting with a Neo-nazi, and even to an altercation with an elderly golfer. Foster simply wants to go "home," even though it's the site of a broken marriage with his ex-wife Elizabeth (Barbara Hershey, The Portrait Of A Lady).
Will Foster be able to arrive at his final destination before Prendergast catches up with him?
Director Joel Schumacher has an odd resume. Most of his films can be best described as interesting misfires, from the Brat Pack opus St. Elmo's Fire to the schlocky Number 23 with Jim Carrey. The Lost Boys may be a considered a cult classic in some circles, but I've never been a big fan of it. Even his overblown film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom Of The Opera has a reputation that can be best described as disappointing. Indeed, many audiences are still feeling bitter at Schumacher for literally destroying the Batman franchise even if Christopher Nolan has thankfully salvaged it. The guy has certainly got a bad rap most of the time, but he does churn a fine film once in awhile (Cousins, The Client).
Even though we're sure to see other films from Schumacher, I think it's safe to say that none will ever come to close to the potent power and immense influence of Falling Down. From the first shot of Foster's sweaty face to seeing him on a TV screen as a normal, loving family man, this film packs a massive punch even after repeated viewings. How did a second-rate director like Schumacher team up with a first-time screenwriter (actor Ebbe Roe Smith, The Big Easy) and two of Hollywood's A-list stars to deliver an exceptional character study? Smith's script was rejected by all the studios in town, and there was even talk of it becoming a cable movie at one point. Add to that the extremely mixed reaction upon the film's release, and it seems like it should have been largely forgotten by now. Falling Down may have been made in 1990s, but now people hail it as one of the best of the decade. Of course, the film will never appeal to all tastes, but those who champion it believe it's a work of significant importance. If anything, the film is surely open to debate and discussion after you watch it.
I say an exceptional character study because Falling Down boasts a layered protagonist we can identify with even we all don't sympathize with him. Bill Foster, aka D-FENS, is the classic anti-hero, a man on a mission, committing actions most sane individuals wouldn't even think about doing. Some may see Foster as nothing more than a caricature of a crazed individual who brings his anger and frustration on himself, but I must disagree. You can tell from his appearance that he grew up in the idealistic 1950s (note the crew cut and glasses) and lived an unremarkable middle-class experience. His job Ë śworking as a defense contractor Ë śtells us that he's committed to protecting America, a country of unlimited opportunities and freedom. All his life he's played by the rules, conforming to the kind of life he expected: building a rewarding career and raising a family. Somewhere along the way, however, his seemingly pleasant situation began to fracture.
We slowly learn about Foster's past through the investigation conducted by Prendergast. He's simply perplexed as to why a family man wearing a white shirt and tie would cause a stir in the city's most violent neighborhoods. Through Prendergast, the audience asks the same questions. Why is Foster causing all this mayhem? If he really wants to go home, why can't he just take a cab? What does Foster intend to do once he reaches his wife (who has a restraining order against him)? Falling Down works so well as a thriller because it keeps us on the edge of our seat, wondering what this man will do next and what will ultimately become of him. What also works is Smith's injection of sardonic humor, which at times comes out of nowhere. The Whammyburger sequence is often cited because of the uncomfortably real maneuver of Foster pulling out a gun in a public place, yet we also laugh at the sheer absurdity of the situation. For those who haven't seen the film, I won't give away such details, but let's just say it's a scene which challenges the viewer in more ways than one.
Obviously, Falling Down is not for all tastes. The tension and humor will only appeal to a certain audience, most of whom will understand what the film is really trying to say. Others will no doubt be offended by it, claiming the film only wants to shock and stereotype. What may assist the unconverted is looking at it from a historical perspective. The early '90s was marked by an alarming increase in poverty, caused by twelve years of Republican rule where the rich got richer and poor got poorer. Consequently, the concept of the middle-American family all but disappeared, with neighborhoods now overrun with immigrants, both legal and illegal. They all wanted a piece of the pie, and the major cities provided the ingredients required to bake it. At the time, L.A. had become a cultural melting pot, with separation between the whites, blacks, and Hispanics. The friction between the races exploded, calling to mind the 1992 Riots and the Rodney King case.
Foster is a man who's disturbed at what America has become: a hellish place of cultural and racial proportions. Take the scene where he's approached by the Hispanic gang members in the park, for instance. Foster no doubt went to that same park as a kid, now completely unaware it was being inhabited by some violent individuals who claim the area as their own through the use of unintelligible graffiti. Or, how about the moment where he crosses the golf course which is blocking his route home. He's dumbfounded as to why these old timers need to use a great portion of the land to play their little game when the locale could boast a family-friendly environment (complete with a petting zoo).
I can't imagine Falling Down being nearly as effective without Michael Douglas in the lead role. The actor has had his fair share of good performances over the years (usually playing slimy bastards), but he's positively electrifying as Foster. The star's fans can hail Gordon Gekko all they want, but I firmly believe this is Douglas' finest performance, a masterful combination of justified anger and lost dreams. At times, he can be scary, other times funny, and even occasionally tender. When he breaks down in front of his daughter, it's such a moving moment it practically screams Oscar. Matching him is the always brilliant Robert Duvall who, ironically enough, is trying to get to a similar home which is also long gone. The final sequence on the pier when the two actors finally meet is unforgettable, a memorable merging of outstanding (if different) talents.
Another distinction of Falling Down is the strong supporting work. Hershey is excellent as Foster's wife, a woman trembling in fear at the thought of her husband returning "home." Rachel Ticotin (Total Recall) is credible as one of Duvall's fellow detectives. Frederic Forrest (Apocalypse Now) is absolutely terrifying as the homophobic Neo-nazi who runs the surplus store. And Tuesday Weld (Looking For Mr. Goodbar) is wonderful as Duvall's demanding wife. Oh, and the Best Bit Player Award goes to Dedee Pfieffer (Michelle's younger sister) as Miss Folsom, the register girl at the Whammyburger. She may be only on screen for 10 minutes (at best), but she exhibits so much charm, tickling the viewer every second. I'm surprised she hasn't really gone onto big and better things, but she's still working.
In recent years, Warner Bros. has shown much more respect to their many catalogue titles that were originally released bare-bones in those horrendous snap-cases. While I think their improved treatment of Falling Down stops short of being a true Deluxe Edition, there are still many benefits. First off, the visual quality is given a polish, with the bold colors and warm flesh tones coming off quite well. Some grain is evident, particularly in the outdoor scenes, but the anamorphic widescreen print is sharp and detailed. James Newton's Howard's chilling score is given a boost in the English & French tracks. The environmental sounds, including the traffic, come off as natural, and the gunshots are audibly awesome. English SDH subtitles are also provided. Extras, unfortunately, are a mixed bag. We get a scene-specific audio commentary by several members of the cast and crew, which comes off as a series of interviews, with each one specifically placed. For example, Frederic Forrest and Vondie Curtis-Hall talk over their scenes, and we occasionally hear comments from Douglas, voiced by the actor back in 1993. The two who contribute the most are Schumacher and Smith, though we also get input from editor Paul Hirsch and several of the producers. Aside from the commentary, we also have a 10-minute "conversation" with Douglas as well as the theatrical trailer. These bonus features are rewarding in certain aspects, but one hungers for more, and the claim on the packaging suggests a different type of commentary.
Unlike most films which came out in the early '90s, the themes in Falling Down are still relevant today, particularly when it comes to the recession. The fervent following may be marginal. Still, it's an expertly crafted mixture of thriller and fantasy that alludes to real life more often than not.
A landmark film with an outstanding Douglas performance, Falling Down is worth re-visiting and highly recommended to first-time viewers.
Bill Foster is free to go to shoot rockets across L.A., while the film is
found not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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