t 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
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
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.