Falling Down (1993), or Schumacher’s Silver Lining

6 11 2009

While I don’t have the deepest respect for Joel Schumacher, the man who put Batman in a coma, everyone always reminds me of Falling Down, his one free pass movie, the movie that everyone loves him in, and the one movie where he didn’t seem to fuck it all up with his odd sensibilities. It’s a cult classic, a searing indictment of American values in the 90s, and I can’t think of anybody who hasn’t loved it to death after they saw it. So, after watching it again after quite a number of years (that’s the unofficial trend of the week, I see), I can say that I appreciate Falling Down, and I think it’s one of Schumacher’s best, but I don’t think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

As with many stories of its ilk, Falling Down begins with a day that might not be as bad as any other day, but it sure feels like shit when you’re living it. A fellow named William Foster has had a really bad day. His ex-wife had a restraining order put on him, his job has let him go, it’s the hottest day in what seems like forever, and he just can’t take it anymore. He walks out of his car, leaving it behind, and makes a journey across LA to break the restraining order and attend his daughter’s birthday. Along the way, he will will violently break all the rules that his life has been held up by, and he will oppose with some heavy-duty firearms anyone who stands in the way of a hot LA day redeemed. Simultaneously, we find ourselves with only one real hero in the town, a barely standing old cop who is the only real thing willing to put an end to William’s pissed-off nerdy tirade. Will our police officer hero be able to stop him in time, or is William going to get what he wants? And is the police officer even our hero?

It is an emotionally complex film, more so than it perhaps even realizes. There’s something very melancholy about the pathetic Foster, from the moment he steps out of his car and you see him abandon the constraints of normal life. It’s a joyless spree of violence that offers not even the illusion of happiness or euphoria that proceeds any act of self-liberation. His acts are not acts of anger, these are acts of acute confusion and disbelief that life can steer so wrong. And his rival in this blind struggle is Prendergast, an officer belittled by the force, his superiors, and even his wife for his old age, his refusal to curse or lash out, and his tendency towards patience. He also has an emotional struggle throughout the film that is far from Danny Glover’s close-to-retirement Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon. This man is beat down, struggling to maintain a feeling of potency even as everyone around him mocks his zealotry towards this mysterious crime-wave. There’s more to this than meets the eye, and if anyone is willing to look past the slightly-worn “fuck society” sentiment used here as some sort of knee-jerk reaction to 90s ennui, then you’ll find that these characters are, if anything,  fresh and lively.

And the acting is pretty good for a Schumacher film. Michael Douglas is a wonder as William Foster. His maniacal intent is cloaked behind a deep emotional connection to his daughter and a stinging regret of a failed marriage. Even during his violent assault weapon-fueled soliloquys, he is tinged with something that really approaches empathy with me. It is a tribute to Douglas’s ability that he can make a man like Foster not only likable but charismatic! We want him to succeed; almost. And Robet Duvall is amazing as everyone’s favorite put-upon officer, Prendergast. I remarked in my Colors review what a pro Duvall was, even with his patented Poker Face on. Here, he arguably does even better as Prendergast, a character with a little more depth. He’s truly one of the best, and this is another good performance from a man I’ve gained a lot of respect for this past year. Barbara Hershey is the weakest link of the three leads as Beth, Foster’s ex wife. She’s a bit too soft for what I think the character calls for. She needs more fire under her feet, a little temperature boost to make her really shine. Compared to Duvall and Douglas, Hershey doesn’t really carry all the weight she should, and she should be carrying quite a lot as the caretaker of Foster’s daughter, who is the linchpin to the whole thing.

There are some flaws. it’s not exactly consistent. The message has an opacity that is either all-encompassing or lazy, and I don’t think this is terribly intentional. Some of the settings are unnecessarily harsh towards Foster, especially the breakfast scene shown above (like a fast food restaurant manager wouldn’t let you tea-bag him for a positive review on your comment card!) and I often get the feeling that LA was a pathetic parody of itself rather than the semi-realistic mirror it should have been. But it’s still good. It’s an exceptional movie with some real power behind it. A lot has to be said for the lead actors, and even the near-graceful approach Schumacher uses for such a bold indictment of society. It’s got a lot going for it, and while I won’t go to sleep tonight with visions of Foster dancing in my head, I’m still surprised and found it to be a little better than I remember it. I give Falling Down 8 1/2 tea-bagged fast-food restaurant managers out of 10!

Stay up with me as I cram in a review for one of my favorite films of all time! Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade!

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4 responses

7 11 2009
Alex

Wow, this sounds really interesting! I mostly identify Schumacher with The Lost Boys, which I’ve always found very enjoyable, if also very silly. After the Batman flops, I never really thought to look for an actually good movie from him. Good to know there’s at least one!

8 11 2009
cinematronica

It’s a good movie, and I think it might be his finest hour, honestly. But I can’t ever forget the tragedy that is Batman & Robin. Because, as Mr. Freeze would say, I’m COLD to Schumacher’s pleas for mercy… HA!

8 11 2009
Alex

Perhaps it’s time for you to just… CHILL

9 11 2009
cinematronica

OH MY GOD THAT’S THE BEST THING I’VE HEARD ALL DAY! YOU JUST MADE MY WEEK! THANK YOU!!! LOL

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