Falling Down

I’m just standing up for my rights as a consumer.

I had tagged Falling Down (1993) as the cousin film of Harry Brown (2009), a vigilante film I reviewed earlier.  The problem is that Falling Down isn’t a vigilante movie.  Therefore, the comparison is going to be a little more strained and less parallel than I had intended.  For purposes of comparison, Harry Brown is about a man (Harry Brown, obviously) who starts solving the murder of a friend of his while shooting people with considerable skill.  He doesn’t go crazy, or rather he doesn’t lose control, and he doesn’t even hurt anyone you might call innocent.  Hence, he is the almost-perfect, though temporary, vigilante for debate.

Bill Foster (Michael Douglas) is driving somewhere (or rather parked in traffic) in his beat-up car.  It’s very hot and a fly is annoying him.  Tick, tick, tick.  Right!  Time to get out of the car.  “I’m going home!”  It’s robbery Det. Prendergast’s (Robert Duvall) last day as a cop–man, that’s a little tired–and after today, he and his cloying and semi-unhinged wife will begin retirement in Arizona.

Bill goes to a shop so that he can call, but not speak to, his ex-wife Beth (Barbara Hershey).  A can of Coke costs $.85, which is roughly $1.30 in today’s money, kind of sets him off.  He messes up the store, but buys his Coke (for $.50), and goes on his way.  Now he’s got a bat.

Then some charming youths try to mug him because he’s on their hill or rubble.  Things don’t go well for the youths.  Now he’s got a butterfly knife.  You can see how this works.  It’s like GTA out there.  It’s L.A., so it’s GTA: San Andreas (2004).  Prendergast somehow hears these series of events and starts to put them together.   He’s going home.

Sometimes you’ve just had enough.  One more minute of this [whatever] will drive you up the wall.  Well, Bill didn’t really have that big a cache to begin with.  If  I can pick a nit, if you’ll excuse me, that’s an opportunity lost.  “Every man has his breaking point” and this movie uses as its example a guy with some serious social problems ab initio.

A better movie might have been someone who was normal and well adjusted who, like a Tootsie-Pop, was just licked once too often.  That’s a crap criticism.  “The problem with this movie is that I didn’t write it.”  That’s a very difficult criticism to avoid because it’s wrapped up in your expectations of the movie and then every response to every moment of the film.

Still, Bill has snapped, probably ‘once again,’ but this time there’s no coming back.  As he says, “[He’s] passed the point of no return … like when those astronauts got in trouble.”  Like I said, I think Bill lost contact with Earth some time ago.  Presumably it wasn’t always hot during those fraught dinners with Mom (Lois Smith) when she thought he might kill her.

Okay, so it doesn’t fulfill the promise of “everyone” has their breaking point, but it is what it is: another movie about a nutter who loses what’s left of his tiddlywinks.  But it keeps things relatively focused on that break down with a parallel cop story.  It works and it works very well.

Michael Douglas is fantastic.  He plays it real and terrifying.  Bill doesn’t have the ticks or cracked-out stares that are so easily employed for this kind of character.  No.  Instead, he’s just a guy who, in his mind, was being quite reasonable in an unreasonable world.  All the things that bugged him before, like people not speaking good English, corrupt municipal workers, or country clubs secluding all the beautiful land for themselves, can now be addressed by these weapons he’s collected on his journey.  Then, yeah, he gets a little cracked-out.  That’s development!

Duvall is good.  Hershey is good.  Pretty much could have been anybody old and pretty, respectively.

"See, this is what I'm talking about."

At least they didn’t have any affair nonsense with Pendergast’s partner, Sandra (Rachel Ticotin).  Good work Ebbe Roe Smith.  For basically his only movie, this is pretty darn good work.  He’s drawn a well-supported crazy person here.  At first it seems like he’s an everyman with a bit of a temper and everything’s gotten on top of him.  But then we find out that his problems existed well before his material troubles.

What a brilliant observation, the line “See, this is what I’m talking about.”

Joel Schumacher, the director, has an impressive list of entertaining mediocrities to his credit–the costume designer for Interiors (1978)?–and this one looks like his best next to the unheralded Tigerland (2000).  “Does no harm” springs to mind, but the content of the film is strong such that “no harm” is, in a way, the best outcome.  Somebody trying to “say something” outside of the story and great performance from Douglas could only hurt things.

In re Harry Brown, this movie is the precise reason why we can’t endorse vigilantes.  No, Bill is not a vigilante, but he’s the next bit of earth on the slippery slope after “taking care of obvious criminals.”  There’s the latent racism he shows in the shop, there’s the overt bigotry shown by the army supply guy who’s “just like [Bill],” and then there’s the clear psychological problem shown in someone who takes violent measures when they stop serving breakfast at 11:30.

God knows we’ve all been there, and if we had Tech-9’s maybe we’d do the same, but let’s try to keep our fingers off the trigger, shall we?

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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