Falling down is a 1993 film directed by Joel Schumacher starring Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall. I saw the movie a few times when I was an adolescent and I more or less classified it as a fun/not serious movie: funny for the crazy moments of Michael Douglas and nothing more. But I just saw it again and I found it really well done, it’s a little gem.
The film shows us the descent into madness of D-Fens (that’s the name of the Michael Douglas character). An emotionally unstable person, in an extremely hot Summer day in the incredible traffic of Los Angeles, D-Fens suddenly decides to “go home”, that is to walk to his ex-wife’s house to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. Unfortunately, along the way he meets a series of stressed out/unreasonable/unbalanced “normal” people who don’t treat him well, often unprovoked, and manage to exacerbate his mental instability and his anger.
We witness a fantastic escalation of events starting from his desire to avenge a small injustice, a shop keeper refusing to change a dollar to allow him to make a phone call, and getting to unprecedented levels of violence featuring shootings and murders among other things. D-Fens uses a number of weapons: a baseball bat, a handgun, a machine gun, and even a bazooka. The victims/targets of the anger of D-Fens also change as the movie goes on: immigrants, wealthy white men playing golf, one nazi, and eventually the police!
Schumacher does a great job in keeping this unrealistic story on a tremendously realistic level: we are able to understand the psychology of the character played by Michael Douglas. We understand his repressed anger and the danger he poses both to society and to his family, and we also understand the fear of his ex-wife and of his mother. At the same time, Schumacher shows us the parallel story of Prendergast, the policeman played by Duvall, who lives under the yoke of his wife who’s obviously affected by mental problems and makes him grant her everything she asks for in order to keep her calm, at the cost of becoming the laughing stock of all his colleagues. All these characters are perfectly characterized by a splendid script: no element appears by chance, no dialogue is out of place. And the camera work is also great: the visual choices always correctly accompany the mood of the protagonists with extreme close-ups when needed, twisted camera angles, timely zooms… Finally, the soundtrack by James Newton Howard perfectly helps the director in creating the right atmosphere alternating between military marches and eerie melodies played by string instruments.
And the ending, which I always thought it greatly inspired the ending of Gran Torino (2008) by Clint Eastwood, is predictable but at the same time splendid. The take-home message is: there is no salvation. Schumacher heavily criticizes the American society, a crazy society which stresses its individuals and breaks the weakest ones. It’s a society in which even if you have a job you can be poor, where humble work leads to nothing, where weapons are easily found everywhere, and where violence and intolerance reign.
Falling down is a film worth watching over and over again, especially now with President Trump in the White House and with the newspapers unfortunately filled with news about domestic violence against women. Ciao!
PS: this movie made me want to watch Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam (1999), another good movie taking place during a hot Summer in a big American city!