It is my contention that Joel Schumacher’s 1993 movie “Falling Down” is this (pinching two fingers together) close to being a very good film. As it stands, it’s just a good movie that overplays its hand and as a result, loses its audience. The movie’s biggest fault is the character of Prendergast, played by Robert Duvall. Prendergast is a retiring police Detective on his last day of work, who ends up responding to a series of calls concerning a “white man” rampaging across Los Angeles. My biggest problem with Prendergast is that he really has no reason to chase after Michael Douglas’ Foster, and thus Prendergast becomes a villain in the mind of the audience when the man has no villainous bone in his body.
“Falling Down” opens with William Foster (Michael Douglas), a defense department worker recently laid off, stuck in traffic in his car, quite literally stewing in his own juices. In a sudden epiphany, Foster realizes that he must get to his daughter’s birthday, which is about to take place across town with his estranged ex-wife (Barbara Hershey), and no one is going to stop him. When Foster stumbles across a bloody gang shooting, he comes into possession of a suitcase full of weapons — including submachine guns, handguns, and rocket launchers. Now armed, Foster begins to take his frustration out on the scum of Los Angeles, which includes overcharging grocers and scamming “homeless” people, as well as a fast food chain that won’t serve him breakfast because it’s a couple of minutes past “breakfast hours.” Can anyone stop this madman? Or is he even “mad” in the first place?
“Falling Down” is such a great idea for a movie, all except for the character of Prendergast, who just becomes an absolute pain in the proverbial buttocks. Instead of just following Foster’s rampage through L.A., writer Ebbe Roe Smith insists on turning Prendergast into a sort of “hero”, complete with a sob backstory that does nothing to warm the audience’s heart toward the guy. Or at least not my heart. The movie’s selling point, and the audience’s investment, is with Foster as he goes on his violent — and oddly understandable — outbursts. Whenever the film shifts to the relentless Prendergast and his insane insistence on continuing to work when everyone wants to send him home, the film loses traction. The filmmakers have made a terrible miscalculation by not understanding that the audience doesn’t want Foster to get caught.
The world is full of scum that will take advantage of you or tick you off for no reason except they have the will to do it. Which means “Falling Down” hits all the right marks when choosing Foster’s targets. Every time Foster takes on and then takes down one of these thieving or annoying people we cheer him on. Prendergast salivates as he chases Foster down; we boo him and wish he would just retire already, the way everyone else keeps insisting he does.
Michael Douglas is terrific in the lead. He plays the middle age white-collar office worker perfectly, with his large black glasses, plain shirt and slacks, and cheap tie. As Foster slowly starts to lose his cool and his mind, we are right there alongside him like a red devil on his shoulder, urging him on. Barbara Hershey plays Beth, Foster’s ex-wife, an insufferable woman who denies her ex-husband the chance to come to his daughter’s birthday, but hits on the patrol cops sent to watch over her. Rachel Ticotin plays Sandra, Prendergast’s partner, who keeps telling him to get the hell home — a sentiment we share.
Joel Schumacher, the notorious director who single-handedly buried the Batman franchise, directs “Falling Down” with a strangely restrained hand. In this earlier effort, Schumacher is just right, probably because he has yet to develop the “power” to be able to do anything he wants in Hollywood — I.e. go wild, as he did with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. “Falling Down”‘s DP is Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die), who gives the film its gritty and down-to-Earth feel, with Foster’s trials and tribulations across the hot and deadly streets of L.A. filmed in stark lightning. The film has the simmering look and feel of a frying skillet. Very intense and explosive.
“Falling Down” is a good film that could have been great. It hits all the right notes about what drives normal people insane about the world we live in and the “rules” that governs it; some rules make more sense than others, and others making no sense at all. Foster does what we wish we could do, and in that regard he’s no more an “angry white man” than the rest of us. Instead, he’s just an “angry man” — period — that refuses to “take it” anymore.
Joel Schumacher (director) / Ebbe Roe Smith (screenplay)
CAST: Michael Douglas …. William Foste
Robert Duvall …. Prendergast
Barbara Hershey …. Beth
Tuesday Weld …. Amanda Prendergast
Rachel Ticotin …. Sandra