Saturday, January 14, 2017

Falling Down

Nowadays to all moviegoers the name Joel Schumacher is not thought of in the highest regard because of one movie. Come on, I know you all know it. The name Joel Schumacher is notorious for the fact that he directed one of the worst films of all time: Batman and Robin. As a result he screwed up the Batman franchise and nearly killed the comic book movie genre in general until it was resuscitated by the phenomenal success of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie in 2002. And also if not for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movie Chris Nolan would not have been able to bring Batman back into theaters with three really awesome movies. So if you want reason to thank Chris Nolan for rescuing Batman from Schumacher, this is it.

So I know a lot of you are asking this question: Can Joel Schumacher direct a good movie? Yes. His movie adaptations of John Grisham novels have been pretty good. The Client was pretty good even though I thought A Time to Kill was better, especially with Samuel L. Jackson. “Yes, they deserved to die! I hope they burn in hell!” And there is the movie we’re reviewing today which could easily be considered the best movie he ever directed. Let that sink in for a minute: The same man who gave us the Bat Credit Card directed one of the best revenge movies of all time. And the fact that Joel Schumacher directed Batman and Robin pretty much negates all the good things he did which is why this film is sort of obscure. But here is a lesson for all of you, if you give Joel Schumacher a comic book movie, he sucks. If you give him a musical, he sucks. But to be fair, if not for Phantom of the Opera we wouldn’t have the hotness that is Emmy Rossum. But if you give him a movie that is grounded in reality like this movie and his Grisham adaptations, he can really direct a good movie.

So here is a review of a movie that may very well be his best movie to date: The 1993 revenge thriller Falling Down.

This movie was released at a time when America was coming out of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. With communism on its way out, America felt like they didn’t have the need for defense contract workers so they laid them off. At the same time America had become sort of decadent in its ways with a new set of rules and a more blended culture. Racial tensions were high at the time. In fact this was filmed during the L.A. Riots. You know the whole Rodney King thing. “Can’t we all just get along?” Well, if you thought America in the early 90’s was bad, wait till you see it in Obama-occupied America. In fact this movie could play very well in Obama America. If this movie were released today it would probably be a bigger hit now that it was when it was released in 1993.

So without further ado, let’s get started with the review of Falling Down.

The movie begins with Bill Foster (played by Michael Douglas in what he considers to be his best role since Gordon Gekko in Wall Street) as a defense contract worker who was recently fired because again the Cold War’s over and his services were no longer required. On top of that, his wife Beth (played by Barbara Hershey) filed for divorce and has a restraining order against him because he’s kind of cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. So anyway, he starts the movie stuck in traffic on the hottest day of the year in L.A. His air conditioner breaks down and he is seeing all these subliminal images that are sort of setting him off, such as the vicious-looking plush Garfield car decoration, bumper stickers that remind us that Jesus died for our sins (even though it really should say Optimus Prime died for our sins) as well as the popular “How am I driving? Call 1-800-EAT SHIT” and so on. You can tell that he is already at the breaking point at the beginning of the movie and it is sort of interesting that the movie decided to start here instead of showing the events that lead to this moment where Foster loses it. In fact the title of this movie is a motif of the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down” and it is a reference to Foster’s mental state. As a result of this, Foster abandons his car complete with the license plate D-FENS and proceeds to walk across L.A. to get home to his daughter’s birthday despite the wife’s restraining order against him.

Ironically also stuck in that same traffic jam is Police Sergeant Prendergast (played by Robert Duvall) who is on his way to work for his last day before he retires. Like Foster, Prendergast has also been screwed over by life. His daughter died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and his wife is kinda batshit insane, not to mention extremely needy. In fact, she is forcing him to retire from the force. At the same time, Prendergast is belittled by his co-workers and his superiors for being pussy-whipped. The only one that actually sticks up for him is his partner Sandra (played by the chick from the Ahnuld version of Total Recall.) But from that moment he becomes obsessed with Foster and throughout the movie he follows the leads whenever Foster commits a violent act.

In the meantime, Foster (or D-FENS as I probably should call him as Michael Douglas is credited as D-FENS in the movie) stops off at a store run by a Korean-American who won’t give him change for the phone unless he buys something. He picks up a can of soda and hoping that it would be 50 cents which he needs to use the pay phone, he becomes outraged when he finds out the Korean store owner charges 85 cents which won’t give him enough for the phone. A struggle ensues where D-FENS takes the guy’s baseball bat and goes to town on his merchandise while accusing the Korean store owner of being a thief because his prices are so damn high. He continues to trash the place until the Korean store owner gives him the soda for 50 cents.

Next up, D-FENS decides to rest on a hill when two Latino street gang members decide to harass him insisting that he is on their turf and demand that he give them his briefcase at knifepoint. D-FENS responds by beating the shit out of them with the bat and running them off while picking up the knife. At this point, this is almost like a video game where the character acquires new weapons every time he defeats a villain.

Later the street gang finds D-FENS at a pay phone where he is continuing to stalk his ex-wife and tell her that he is coming home for his daughter’s birthday party and then the gang tries to off him in a drive-by shooting and they hit everyone but him and then they crash their car in a nearby alley. D-FENS is back in video game mode and walks over to the car where he obtains the gang’s gym bag full of guns. When he picks up the Uzi, I think Schumacher was going for an homage to Dirty Harry’s iconic “Do you feel lucky, punk” speech that he gives to a robber. Here he shoots at the surviving thug and misses to tease him and then shoots him in the leg. I’m pretty sure the audience agreed with him when he leaves the wounded thug with a piece of advice: “Take some shooting lessons, asshole” before walking away with the gang’s automatic weapons.

D-FENS’ next stop is a fast food restaurant where he tries to order breakfast but finds out that he is two minutes late. Demanding that the restaurant honor the age-old motto that “The customer is always right,” D-FENS pulls out the Uzi and accidentally fires into the ceiling (another humorous scene.) Then he changes his mind and orders lunch where he then proceeds to bitch about the burger not looking like the burger portrayed on the poster.  

Oh and by the way, the fast food worker that D-FENS first talks to while trying to put his order in for breakfast? Michelle Pfeiffer’s sister.

And then he decides to stop off at an army surplus store that is run by a closet Nazi skinhead who is first seen berating a gay couple who is frequenting his store at a time when people being gay was slowly starting to become accepted in society.  The Nazi army store owner is in awe of D-FENS because he has been listening in on D-FENS’ “vigilante” exploits on the police scanner to the point where he hides D-FENS when a cop comes into the store looking for him.

Once the cop leaves the Nazi guy gives D-FENS a rocket launcher as a gift and shows him his private collection of Nazi paraphernalia. However, D-FENS is disgusted by all of this, most notably by the surplus store owner’s blatant racism and the Nazi guy tries to arrest him before D-FENS kills him, first by stabbing him with the switchblade that he took from the street gang and then by shooting him which marks the first time in the movie that D-FENS kills someone directly because of his actions and is now as he says in another harassing phone call to Beth “past the point of no return.”

Then D-FENS, who has by now exchanged his white shirt and tie for combat fatigues, comes across a road work crew who are supposedly working on a highway but are apparently blocking traffic for no reason. D-FENS accuses them of doing unnecessary repairs to the road in order to justify their budget. Then when the road work foreman finally admits that there’s nothing wrong with the street (partly because he saw D-FENS’ gun poking out from his crotch) D-FENS responds by pulling out his rocket launcher and says “I’ll give you something to fix.” This is easily my favorite sequence in the movie where a black kid, assuming that D-FENS is an actor and that he is filming an action movie) teaches him how to use the rocket launcher claiming that he learned how to use a rocket launcher from watching it in a movie. I’m not sure where I read this but when the kid says that he learned how to use the rocket launcher from watching a movie it is implied that he learned it by watching Beverly Hills Cop II. Once again I have no idea where I learned this from whether it is from the movie’s IMDB page or what. But anyway, this is my favorite sequence in the movie. He manage to fire the launcher by accident, the projectile going under the street and then blowing up the construction site on the other side.

Another funny action scene comes shortly after that when D-FENS walks across an old man’s golf course and after the old man tries to hit the golf ball at D-FENS, he responds by pulling out a 12-gauge and shoots his golf cart, forcing it to go into the lake and gives the old man a heart attack because his heart medication happened to be in the cart. It’s unknown whether or not the old man dies but D-FENS makes the remark “Now you’re gonna die wearing that silly little hat. How does it feel?”

As D-FENS gets closer to Beth’s house, Prendergast finally has a man-up moment when he finally stands up to his batshit insane wife and even manages to punch out his co-worker who berated his wife to explain why Prendergast wasn’t showing interest in the stripper that the squad got for him. However before all that, he learned more about D-FENS’ real identity after talking with his mother and that after D-FENS got divorced he was forced to move back in with his mother (whom he blames for his divorce) and finds out that D-FENS is on his way to his ex-wife’s house in the L.A. suburb of Venice presumably to kill both her and her daughter before killing himself. Now I’m not sure if that was really what he intended to do. The movie kind of left that vague but from what I saw, sure D-FENS is kind of cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, but I think that he actually intended to patch things up with his ex-wife so that they could be a family again. In short he is chasing the illusion of home.

By the time D-FENS reaches Beth's house, she has already fled with Adele. He realizes that they may have gone to nearby Venice Pier, but Prendergast arrives to arrest him. D-FENS manages to escape by shooting Prendergast’s partner and runs to Venice Pier with Prendergast in pursuit.

At the end of the pier, D-FENS finally reunites with his ex-wife and daughter. His daughter is happy to see him, but his ex-wife is frightened. Prendergast arrives and acknowledges that D-FENS has been ill-treated by society, but does not accept that as an excuse for his rampage. Like I said before the movie is not only about D-FENS but it is also about Prendergast: Two men who have played by the rules their entire lives and have been fucked over by society and marginalized who handle their situations in different ways. While D-FENS’ way to react to the situation is with violence, Prendergast’s way is to just get by the best you can.

While Prendergast is distracting D-FENS, Beth manages to steal D-FENS’ gun and toss it in the ocean as Prendergast draws his revolver, insisting that D-FENS give himself up. D-FENS is flabbergasted by this and finally asks the question that has been on a lot of people’s minds in regards to his actions throughout the movie: “I’m the bad guy?” Theoretically, he does not see himself as the villain. He’s just a regular guy trying to get things back the way they used to be and not only does that apply to his family but to America as well. In fact when Michael’s father, legendary actor Kirk Douglas defended the movie against critics who accuse the movie as glorifying lawbreaking: "Michael's character is not the 'hero' or 'newest urban icon'. He is the villain and the victim. Of course, we see many elements of our society that contributed to his madness. We even pity him. But the movie never condones his actions."

Knowing full well that he cannot handle watching his daughter grow up while he’s in jail, D-FENS tells Prendergast that he has another gun and challenges him to a showdown. By doing this, he has actually allowed this cop who is just as marginalized as he is to be his reluctant executioner so that his daughter can collect his life insurance money. Then when he goes to pull out his gun, Prendergast shoots him dead. That while I was hoping that this would have gone to a sequel, this was probably the only way this could end, with him dead. But one question remains: Did D-FENS’ actions make the world a better place? I would have to say no because like I said before, the world is much worse now than it was in 1993.

As far as performances go, there’s really not much I can say as far as performances go. Everything is pretty much solid across the board, especially when it comes to Michael Douglas. And I agree that this was his best role since Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. This is a role where he dared to take risks and put a human face on the age-old stereotype of the “angry white male” who wants to get back at society for ignoring him, for marginalizing him and taking everything he’s worked for and everything he is away. Plus it is very refreshing to see Douglas do what many of us wish we could do sometimes, such as randomly punching out a road rager, blowing up a construction site, shooting up a phone booth with an Uzi, and even demanding that an establishment honors the age-old motto that “the customer is always right.” Coming from a guy who works in retail, I can relate to that.

Falling Down ended up being a modest box office hit, grossing over 40 million dollars against a 25 million dollar budget and like I said before the movie would probably play better today than it did in 1993. But the movie was not without controversy. For one thing, the Korean American Coalition protested the film because of the treatment of the Korean store owner and Warner Brothers’ Korean division cancelled the release of the film in South Korea in the face of boycott threats. The unemployed defense workers who were laid off also protested their portrayal through the character of D-FENS in the film and the film has been described as the definitive exploration of the concept of the angry white male stereotype.

In spite of the controversy, Falling Down received generally positive reviews from critics. To this day, the movie holds a 73% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which makes the film Schumacher’s second highest-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes as a director (behind The Client which holds an 80 percent approval rating.) 

Among some of the reviews the movie got, Roger Ebert, who gave the film a positive review at the time of its release, remarked about D-FENS: “What is fascinating about the Douglas character, as written and played, is the core of sadness in his soul. Yes, by the time we meet him, he has gone over the edge. But there is no exhilaration in his rampage, no release. He seems weary and confused, and in his actions he unconsciously follows scripts that he may have learned from the movies, or on the news, where other frustrated misfits vent their rage on innocent bystanders.”

However, Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club has been critical of the film: "It’s seemingly meant as a sort of dark comedy about the petty annoyances of life, and how they can accumulate and become so maddening that over-the-top cathartic violence seems like the only satisfying option. But Douglas’ violent reaction to his surroundings, and the way the film treats virtually everyone around him as worthless, and presents his violence as the comedic payoff, turns it into a tone-deaf, self-pitying lament about the terrible persecution facing the oppressed majority in an era of political correctness and increasing multiculturalism. In its ugly, skewed world, almost everyone but this madman is dumb, incompetent, and offensive, and his only possible solution is to wipe a few of these losers off the face of the earth, then die. It’s a profoundly hateful film disguised alternately (and erratically) as either tragedy or humor."

 The Washington Post writer Hal Hinson observed "This guy is you, the movie suggests, and if not you exactly, then maybe the guy you're one or two bad breaks from becoming. At one time or another, we've all thought these thoughts, and so when this downtrodden, laid-off, teed-off L.A. defense worker gets out of his car on a sweltering day in the middle of rush hour and decides he's not going to take any more, it comes as no surprise." To some extent, I agree with that statement. This is one of those movies where anyone could be this character. Hell, even I could be this character. And I’ve seen this a lot, most notably when it comes to a movie like Taxi Driver (one of my all-time favorite movies) where I’ve seen YouTube comments that pertain to Taxi Driver where the commenter said, “I am Travis Bickle.” In some ways, Falling Down is actually Schumacher’s version of Taxi Driver.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film four stars out of five, writing "Douglas neither demonizes nor canonizes this flawed character. Marching across a violent urban landscape toward an illusory home, this shattered Everyman is never less than real..."I'm the bad guy?" he asks in disbelief. Douglas speaks the line with a searing poignancy that illuminates uncomfortable truths without excusing the character. Schumacher could have exploited those tabloid headlines about solid citizens going berserk. Instead, the timely, gripping Falling Down puts a human face on a cold statistic and then dares us to look away."

So what does this guy here think about this movie? I think that not only is this movie one of the best revenge movies ever made, it may very well be the best movie Schumacher has ever directed. Screw The Client. I’ll say it again Falling Down is the best movie Schumacher ever directed. It is a movie clearly not to be missed. And as far as I’m concerned, the real reason Falling Down doesn’t get anywhere near as much play as it used to is because of the fact that Joel Schumacher directed Batman and Robin.

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