Film Focus: Falling Down
Falling Down (1993)
Written by: Ebbe Roe Smith
Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey
Running Time: 113 mins
“You think I’m a thief? Oh, you see, I’m not the thief. I’m not the one charging 85 cents for a stinking soda! You’re the thief. I’m just standing up for my rights as a consumer.”
Bill Foster- Falling Down
Reviewed by Matt Keleher
The common foibles of modern living, such as rush-hour traffic, the occasional lousy meal and extortionate prices are things that most of us are able take in our stride with a little levity. Yet it’s easy to imagine that for somebody on the very brink, any of the aforementioned bugbears could tip them right over the edge…
In Falling Down, Bill ‘D-FENS’ Foster (played by Michael Douglas) is the white-collar defence worker recently made redundant from his job …and in turn, from society. In the opening scene, Bill is trapped in a hopelessly stymying traffic jam, staring into the haze, sweat glistening upon his worn forehead. Wearing a brush cut, thick glasses with a shirt, tie and slacks it’s easy to peg him as the soft-spoken milquetoast who would crumple at the hint of a conflict.
Yet with the loss of his job, compounded with his estrangement from his wife and daughter, the gridlock turns out to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, overriding a switch and bringing Bill’s latent aggression and frustration to the forefront.
He symbolically abandons societal convention once he abandons his car on the freeway – to the bemusement of his fellow motorists; the confusion and disarray this act of defiance creates is palpable – people are aghast, even offended that somebody would dare deviate from expected behaviour.
The intensity is turned up a notch as he wanders into a grocery store for some change to make a phone call; the clerk refuses- insisting that he buys something. While Bill relents, he realises that the purchase won’t leave him with enough change for the call, so asks for 50 cents from a dollar. When he is refused by the avaricious clerk, he begins to lose his cool. Sensing a threat, the clerk produces a baseball bat and asks him to leave. Imbibed by adrenalin, Bill seizes the bat, turning the tables on the situation; having wrested the power away, he asks the clerk the name the prices of items in his store before smashing up the stock he feels to be overpriced. Then, he simmers down – even paying 50 cents for a soda as he leaves.
As he makes the phone call we learn that he plans to visit his daughter on her birthday, though his estranged wife makes it explicitly clear that he’s not welcome. From thereon out, Bill descends deep and deeper into depravity.
Some of the early conflicts, such as a disagreement in a fast-food restaurant are darkly comic; Bill asks for a breakfast meal, but is refused as the manager explains the menu changed minutes ago. He fires a pistol at the ceiling sending the whole restaurant into panic. The panic-stricken staff are compelled to meet his demands; only Bill to whimsically change his mind and decide he wants to order from the lunchtime menu after all! When he asks a terrified customer how they’re enjoying their meal, they vomit into their tray.
“I think we have a critic here,” he remarks.
“I don’t think she likes the special sauce, Rick…That was a joke.”
As the story progresses, Bill stumbles from one conflict to the next, each more heated and violent than the last; he quickly becomes acclimatised to bloodshed, his inhibitions falling further with each unpleasant encounter. After an ugly conflict with a neighbourhood gang, the unassuming looking man with the briefcase comes to the attention of the cops.
Douglas’ delivers a memorable performance, portraying Bill’s insecurities, regret and inner-conflict just as believably as he does his torrid anger. The film is bolstered by a capable supporting cast especially Robert Duvall who plays Detective Prendergast – a virtuous cop who faces comparable circumstances to Bill; it’s the day of his retirement and hearing of the grizzly conflict downtown he ditches his leaving party, ignoring cries from his overbearing wife to come home as he and partner Elizabeth Travino (Barbara Heshey) tail Bill in an effort to put the brakes on his terrifying rampage.
This heated thriller will have you at the edge of your seat, as moral boundaries become indistinct and the film races towards its intense final act. Falling Down is a fine film, which aside from its frantic action, interspersed with emotional drama offers an intelligent insight into the workings of contemporary society, the age of instant gratification and the triggers which may cause an individual to snap and rail against them…
To watch the film’s trailer click below:
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