Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Strong Language
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Ebbe Roe Smith
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Frederic Forrest, Tuesday Weld
This is a difficult one to review. Some films have a plot, other films are character studies (AMERICAN PSYCHO), and some are a series of events told in non-linear fashion (PULP FICTION). FALLING DOWN is a bit of a character study and a series of events that substitutes for a plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because this film has a lot on its mind and even more to say about our society.
William Foster is a desperate man trying to get to his daughter’s birthday party, despite the wishes of his ex-wife. In the middle of this hot and crowded day, something inside of Foster snaps as he frantically tries to swat a fly within his car. Without a word, he opens his door and abandons his car in the middle of the road. He’s attempts to walk across town, through some pretty shady areas, in order to make it to his daughter’s birthday. Along the way he makes some chance encounters that normally would just irritate a normal person, but William Foster is no longer in his normal frame of mind. Instead of reacting to these problems in a rational calm way, Foster responds with violence, all while lecturing and making observations about the rudeness and unfair nature of life itself. Sergeant Martin Prendergast, an officer on his last day on the job, has begun connecting the series of seemingly random attacks together and therefore, trailing Foster.
Michael Douglas is fascinating to watch as a man simply slipping over the edge of sanity. It also goes to show just how easy it could be for someone under too much pressure to just go crazy. Douglas encapsulates what it means to be human and the frustration a person can go through when they’re just standing up against a situation that seems unfair. Of course, the character of Foster goes over the top and becomes a lunatic totting guns in every possible scenario he’s thrown in. There are a few situations where we actually root for Foster (an encounter with some violent gangsters who’ve picked the wrong day to mess with him or the hobo telling a story that becomes more far-fetched as he desperately tries to mooch some money off Foster) and there are a bunch where Foster reacts in ways that are out-of-control for the situation (an encounter at a convenience store or a complaint at a fast food restaurant).
Some bits of dark comedy are thrown in here and there too. However, the film never really becomes a full-blown dark comedy. Instead, it firmly stays planted in reality as the downward spiral Foster finds himself in gets bleaker, the further he goes down. The subplot of the movie that feels a bit unneeded is Robert Duvall’s storyline. He plays the Sergeant investigating Foster and these scenes don’t really add much to the proceedings. It would have probably gotten a bit boring to follow Michael Douglas around for just under two hours as he makes cynical observations while pulling out weapons in every circumstance. That’s where the main problem of the movie comes in.
FALLING DOWN is too long and I attribute most of this to the previously stated unneeded subplot. Michael Douglas was great and his rapidly growing frustration that escalated into violence made the movie. This was the movie in a nutshell and that’s probably why the bits of Robert Duvall, including a few what-were-they-thinking bits involving his unhinged stay-at-home wife, takes away from the power of this film.
Overall, FALLING DOWN is worth a watch, but know that the film wears out its welcome by adding in the bits of the police procedural. If it were a tight 90 minute film that followed Michael Douglas as he made the journey across town to confront an ex-wife and see his daughter again, then this movie really would have been so much better. Instead, it’s a good film, when it could have been a great one.