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Friday, 9 June 2017

Retro Review: Falling Down (1993)

Falling Down
Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbera Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Frederic Forrest  
Genre: Thriller 
U.S Box Office Gross: over $40 million 

Plot: An unemployed defense worker frustrated with the various flaws he sees in society, begins to psychotically and violently lash out against them 

'The Madness & Heat Take Its Toll In This At Times Ugly, Grim and Yet Fascinating Reality of L.A'

Penned by Ebbe Rose Smith, who also appeared on Outrageous Fortune, Murphy Brown and The Big Easy, the title Falling Down alludes to a character who is having a bad day and yet chooses to vent his frustration and anger on society's ills on other people, as he ventures in parts of L.A by trashing stores, shooting people. Former aerospace engineer, William Forester nicknamed D-FENS has been recently laid off and with that, this ultimately affects his life, which spirals downhill. Before that, he was married to then-wife, Beth and later divorced. He isn't even allowed to see his daughter. He encounters shopkeepers, gang members, a neo-nazi, homophobic racist, different kinds of people, but also who are stereotypes, which may annoy some people: when he feels provoked or he is pushed to the limit, no sooner does he snap. With two cops hot on his trail, how long will D-FENS manage to evade them? 

It's a film that makes you wonder 'what if?' in certain situations: to what point can you tolerate being stuck in traffic, and you just want to get out? In many ways, it's a social commentary of a man who critiques life's problems and offering his take on each them, whilst unleashing his torrent of violence.

Besides Gordon Gekko of Wall Street, Michael Douglas is usually not known for anti-hero and villain roles, but for once he nails the role with ease. William is not a sympathetic person, nor very likeable. He is not a vigilante but a guy who just snapped: his actions are at times detestable, deplorable and violent. But at the same time, his behaviour teeters on the edge and is a sign of someone suffering from mental illness. As a person, William also has a conscience. Is he really the bad guy? Can we truly feel empathy for someone who commits terrible acts of violence and who does so as a way of making a point about how imperfect the world and society is? 

This is one of Joel Schumacher's (fewer) better films, and he hasn't had many that are that memorable or of which are that good - Batman & Robin, Phone Booth (which is similar to Falling Down) and Dying Young amongst the turkeys of his filmography, where his track record has been anything but consistently impressive. The close-up shots of William Foster and the other characters bring forth that frustration that drives this character to commit terrible sins and acts of murder.

It's weird, but also to an extent, relatable in some ways also. The plot and the concept are unlike many I've come across and its execution is handled extremely well, especially by Schumacher.

Michael Douglas, meanwhile, gives a far better and more substantial performance here than he did in Basic Instinct. Not since towards the final half of Fatal Attraction, have we seen his character snap and go berserk as Foster goes raging psycho mode. In his against-type performance (and he usually plays victim-based characters), as William, he turns the screw several times and this made the film watchable and maintained suspense throughout. Douglas's portrayal could've descended into cartoon character territory, yet thankfully that doesn't happen. Instead, it is equal parts honest, raw, passionate, as well as terrifying and tragic. Despite the 18 rating in the UK, the violence is not that bloody and senseless that one would imagine a film of this type to be.

Robert Duvall plays the cop, Prendergast and the parallels with his character with William's is interesting. He too sometimes feels stress and sometimes things don't go the way he wants it, yet he remains sane, cool, calm and approaches situations in a more relaxed and non-threatening manner. Rachel Ticotin as Sandra has a more low-key role as a cop than as Melina in Total Recall, but she still turns in an effective performance. Duvall and Tincotin's characters could have been otherwise, largely throwaway and immediately forgettable, and yet their roles are integral to the plot just as much as is Douglas's role. Barbera Hershey's Elizabeth doesn't really do or say much, other than trying to get away from her ex-husband, whereas LAPD Martin's wife, Amanda is a nagging, irritating pain in the butt.  

Falling Down is a film that is not really about violence or punishment or a film that is about a so-called bad guy/antagonist: it's about frustration and sadness, and the type of sadness that drives a person to do heinous acts. 20 plus years since its release, it still has not lost its drive or power to stun, surprise, but also to make people think.

Final Verdict:

A rare career highlight and the best by far in Joel Schumacher's otherwise awful output, Falling Down doubles up as an interesting social commentary, that touches on themes that are still relevant and still resonate today. After his unimpressive turn in Basic Instinct, Michael Douglas gives a far more complex and also unbelievable and memorable performance as a troubled man, whose life is falling apart, as much as it falls down.

Falling Down is a magnificent and fascinating movie and whilst it was slightly unnerving to watch during certain scenes, it still had me gripped and engrossed in the characters. At times insightful and entertaining in places with a solid plot-line, as well as the convincing and intriguing acting performances, the film manages to provide excellent viewing, without it dissolving into an orgy of senseless violence, which would or might have taken away from the story.

Underrated, understated, it is a film that not only is it watchable, it makes certain points about how messed up society can be, despite the stereotypes, but that also by taking out one's frustrations out on other people by hurting others and innocent people and using violence, only intensifies the problem and thus, makes it even worse. 

Packing a mean punch in the right places and watchable from beginning to end, for once, Joel Schumacher did really, really good.



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