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Monday, April 28, 2014

My 40 Favorite Films of the 90's - 33 - Falling Down (1993)

Falling Down (1993; Warner Bros. Pictures)
Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Ebbe Roe Smith
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey

Have you ever had a bad day?  I mean a really, really bad day?  Well, William Foster had a bad day in 1993.  Falling Down is about one man’s travels through Los Angeles in the middle of a heat wave where he faces many of societies ills and decides he will deal with them in his own vigilante style.  That style, however, turns into an increasingly violent rampage as he essentially threatens his ex-wife about coming to “see his daughter on her birthday”.

The film opens with Michael Douglas sitting in his car on the freeway, stuck in a traffic jam in the smoldering Summer heat.  He makes the rash and uncalculated decision to up and abandon his vehicle and this begins his journey.  As he travels the city he crosses street gangs, Nazi sympathizers and cynical fast food workers, and as he moves from place to place, his ultimate destination being a visit to his daughters’ home.  Along the way, he exacts revenge of sorts on those who he deems to be “problems” in society.  He is the living embodiment of that frustrated feeling you get while driving behind a complete idiot on the road multiplied by one hundred.  He is society’s rage and bitterness and violence all rolled into a simple, psychotic package.

Michael Douglas nails it in this movie.  I would go so far as to say, this is my favorite performance of his entire career.  He hits the nail on the head with the mood swings, the sudden swing from rational to utterly mad, and as the day goes on, he becomes more and more dangerous.  My favorite scene in the film is actually one of my personal favorite film scenes period.  It takes place in a fast food restaurant and I really do not want to ruin it so just watch this movie, even if only for that one scene.  Douglas’ acting here is laugh-out-loud funny and more than a little disturbing.

The supporting cast is good here, though most characters are only in the film for a brief time as they are archetypes that Foster is forced to deal with.  The main supporting character is the obligatory “one-day-before-retirement” detective, obviously played as a gag on the cliche.  Detective Pendergast is acted with energy and a contrasting level of self control by the super-talented Robert Duvall, who can give a performance in a local car dealership ad and it would be Oscar material.  

The typical cat-and-mouse plot is actually only secondary, however, as the crux of the film is focused on an array of societal issues like racism, gang violence, and even the simplest acts of selfishness.  Foster is the Id.  He is the first, unfiltered, violent, extreme that one with no moral compass or social filter would become while surrounded by the things he or she despises.  Of course, he is also a caricature of judgement from On High, as he hands out the best punishment he can, even if it is him simply yelling what we are all thinking while wielding a machine gun.  

Falling Down is a brilliant work of social satire told with wit and from a surprisingly non-biased position.  It is a clever idea executed very well.  Now, about the execution: Did you note the director’s name?  Yep.  This is from the man who directed one of the most despised movies of all time: Batman and Robin.  Do not let that fact spoil this, though.  Falling Down is great fun and, despite being a little over-the-top, is actually even a little cathartic as it is a reminder that maybe you are not the only one who is “sick and tired”.

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