Moviedrome Redux: ‘Falling Down’ (1993)

❉ This week, Nick Clement revisits an underrated gem that remains as thought provoking now as it did when it first came out.

‘Falling Down’. Joel Schumacher never made a better, more relevant, more incisive film than this underrated gem from 1993. This film is still as angry and bitter as ever, featuring a startlingly brilliant performance from Michael Douglas as a man who has literally stepped over the edge and fallen into the abyss. Ebbe Rowe Smith’s scathing, scalding and deliriously mean screenplay is an equal opportunity offender, taking no prisoners, giving zero fucks, and offering critiques of everyone and everything in our constantly depth-plumbing society. There’s a kinship that this film has to stuff like ‘Network’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Natural Born Killers’, John Herzfeld’s imperfect but interesting ’15 Minutes’, and Dan Gilroy’s terrific ‘Nightcrawler’ – these are all films that hold up elements of our cracked and perverted and degenerative social landscape to be laughed at in horror, while mixing violent content with poison-pen satire.

The black comedy elements in ‘Falling Down’ are balanced perfectly with explosive fits of action and rage, mostly stemming from Douglas’ character’s inability to see eye to eye with anything that he crosses paths with. Named simply D-Fens in the script (it’s on his license plate and it’s mentioned that he once held a government job), he loses his grasp on his sanity one sweaty morning in bumper to bumper Los Angeles gridlock traffic, abandoning his car, and setting off on foot to make it home for his daughter’s birthday party. Only problem – his ex-wife (an excellent Barbara Hershey) has taken out a restraining order against him, and the fact that he’s recently been fired from his job aren’t winning him any points in the stability department.

After he makes a wild ruckus inside an Asian grocery store after the store’s manager refuses to give him change to make a pay phone call (pay phones!), the cops are called, and it’s up to a last-day-on-the-job detective, played with surly ruggedness by Robert Duvall in one of his wittiest performances, to find and stop D-Fens before various citizens of Los Angeles interact with this ranting and raving lunatic. Or, as Smith’s screenplay so subtly (or not so subtly implies), how much of an actual lunatic is D-Fens? Is it the world around D-Fens that has gone to shit so fast and so quick that his violent and sociopathic actions would be actually be required? Because, to be honest, some of what D-Fens rails against in this film (NOT ALL, but some), is rational stuff to be pissed off over, and when society does nothing to clean up the messes that it creates, it can leave some people feeling resentful and hostile and frustrated.

And that’s what Douglas totally nails in his blistering portrayal of a man who has failed himself as a result of society failing him – he picks at the scab that is D-Fens, never letting him off the hook for anything, even at the very end. ‘Falling Down’ remains as thought provoking now as it did when it first came out, and it’s interesting to note that Schumacher, always an excellent visual craftsman, would never reach the heights that this singular film took him too as an artist. Both ‘Tigerland’ and ‘Veronica Guerin’ were superb and underrated efforts, better than people gave them credit for being, and he’s made some entertaining and glossy studio hits like ‘Phone Booth’, ‘Flatliners’, ‘The Client’, and ‘A Time To Kill’, but the way he confronted Los Angeles as a city and the character of D-Fens in ‘Falling Down’ was and still is bracing to behold. I doubt this movie could get made today on the same level.


❉ Nick Clement’s latest venture, Podcasting Them Softly, is a weekly podcast discussing a film of the week, new and notable Blu-ray releases, new films in theatres, top five performances and collectibles. 

❉ He is also a regular contributor for MovieViral.com, a site dedicated to providing the best news and analysis on viral marketing and ARG campaigns for films and other forms of entertainment.

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