‘Falling Down’ is a thriller starring Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall and directed by Joel Schumacher. It revolves around Douglas’ character, William Foster, credited as ‘D-FENS’ for reasons that become clear once you’ve watched the picture, as the archetypical ‘angry white male’ in the process of a dangerous mental breakdown, climaxing after years of pent up rage at society, consumerism and the government. The film has strong social and political messages throughout, showing Schumacher and writer Ebbe Roe’s own problems with 90’s America that also paints a depressingly allegorical world to the one we see today with Trump’s presidency. In particular, Schumacher’s homosexuality and the prejudice he received can be clearly seen allegorically in the scene in the gun store.
‘Falling Down’ is a genius piece of cinema where every element of the picture is in service to either driving the tone, narrative or message forward and it does so with masterful efficiency. The opening shot for example, gives us the sense of discomfort and annoyance that Foster is feeling, before we even know what kind of man he is and what he’ll be doing. It immediately gets the audience on board with the protagonist with masterful quick paced editing, close up shots and uncomfortable music choices (wonderfully scored by James Newton Howard) to invest us. This is then subverted when we discover what an unstable, angry, ignorant and bitter man our protagonist really is and leaves us our own bitter taste for supporting him. That said, we can find our own sense of embarrassing euphoria when he commits an act that puts an unpleasant member of society in their place, despite how questionable his actions are. We hate Foster for the pain he causes his wife and family, but simultaneously celebrate it when he calls out all of the things wrong with society, be it a deceptively marketed burger, or the riches afforded to a superficial career path like a plastic surgeon.
Thankfully, we have the sensational Robert Duvall to keep us grounded, whose performance is wonderful and warm. In the repulsive presentation of the dystopia that is L.A, Duvall, as well as his police partner, Foster’s wife and daughter, present the few shreds of mortality in this otherwise polluted landscape. This an incredibly well devised picture that has meaning behind every shot and can be analysed to death. In terms of the acting, it’s sensational. Michael Douglas is captivating and hypnotic as Foster, presenting an often-monotone face that explodes into rage fuelled monologues and a sardonic sense of humour that makes you feel guilty for laughing. The supporting cast is good, but many characters, especially those in the police station are one note stereotypes, present only to further show the degenerative nature of the city that has already been hammered home many times. I see the intention, but more grounded supporting characters could’ve given a slightly more realistic tone, potentially making the actions of Foster hit even harder.
Overall, ‘Falling Down’ is a masterpiece of cinema. It’s not exactly a ‘stick it on for a nice Sunday afternoon’ kind of film and the ending hits hard, but in terms of translating the messages and meaning presented to the audience via acting, cinematography, music and editing, it hits the mark every time. It’s powerful and will have you debating a multitude of social issues after watching it. My main question was, how the hell did Schumacher craft such a masterpiece of cinema and simultaneously be responsible for the travesties of cinema that are ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman and Robin’? Truly one of life’s mysteries.