Review by Gordon Justesen
Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Frederic Forrest,
Director: Joel Schumacher
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 2.0, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: May 26, 2009
ďIím the bad guy?Ē
The chances of a film like Falling Down getting made in todayís moviemaking system would be extremely slim. The fact that a film like this got released in 1993 through a major studio was nothing short of a miracle. It was turned down by all but one major studio, which further illustrates just how daring the film was.
It remains one of the most provocative films ever made, and it was one of the first films I had been exposed with a hard hitting social message. When I first rented the movie, I was simply pumped to see Michael Douglas kick ass all over Los Angeles. And while there was plenty of that on display, the filmís underlying commentary on the economic state of the time came out of left field, leaving a most effective impact.
I do recall that the film was marketed in a strange way during its theatrical run. One of the trailers I saw seemed to have sold it as more of a black comedy, without really giving any hints that this was actually a darker film with serious themes. You can call it mis-marketing, but whenever a studio takes on a risky project like this thereís always the possibility that it will be difficult to sell to audiences.
Had it not been for Douglas, the film may have never got made at all. His status as both oscar winning leading man and a producer no doubt helped in convincing the studio that this was a film that needed to get made. I really admire actors who can do pretty much any film that comes there way, and yet choose projects that pushes boundaries and touches nerves.
Douglas also happens to give his most effective screen performance to date in the film. He plays Bill Foster, who at the beginning of the film is sitting in his car in a traffic jam on what appears to be a real scorcher of a day in L.A. While in his car, Bill observes his surroundings, and decides he canít take it anymore. So he abandons his car in mid traffic, and though itís not quite clear what the rest of the day has in store for him, we can sense that itís not going to be pleasant.
And it certainly does, as Bill slowly becomes unhinged with just about everyone he crosses paths with in the city. He demolishes a Korean owned convenience store after an argument with the owner over high prices. It then elevates to violent fall out with gang members who donít want him crossing through their territory, the result of which has Bill coming into possession of a duffle bag filled with firearms.
On this very same day, robbery division cop Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall) is working his last day before retirement. Everyone at the precinct is reminding him to watch his back and not get shot before the end of the day, but since he usually works at a desk he should have nothing to worry about. But after questioning the Korean whose store was attacked, Prendergast realizes he may endure his most intense day on the force.
As the day progresses from bad to worse, we come to learn a few things about Bill that help explain why he might have chosen this particular day to snap. He was recently laid off from his job as a defense worker, as he was deemed no longer economically viable. That reason alone perfectly explains why his inner rage has been triggered.
But he also harbors a tendency towards violent behavior, which played a big part in his marriage ending. And yet, Billís main goal for the day is to make it to his young daughterís birthday party. But as we see him making numerous phone calls to his ex wife (Barbara Hershey) about his plan to visit in a somewhat taunting matter, we see that heís also very delusional in a most uncomfortable way.
The one aspect of Falling Down that I always found riveting was how it made Douglasí character insane, and yet reminded us that heís far from being considered a nasty form of evil. The one scene that demonstrates this perfectly is his encounter with the owner of an army/navy store, who turns out to be a neo Nazi. Itís a most uncomfortable scene for both the audience and the Douglas character, because the skinhead admires Billís vigilante ways. And after hearing some sick racist rhetoric, Bill retaliates with lines of dialogue that make you want to stand up and cheer.
It really disappoints me that director Joel Schumacher isnít remembered for films like this. People always seems to enjoy acknowledging him as the guy who ruined the Batman franchise, when the truth is heís bade a batch of terrific films that, to me, erase the memory of his errors. Not every film of his has been a success, but Falling Down ranks with the truly best of Schumacherís work, such as Phone Booth, 8MM and Tigerland.
Having just revisited Changing Lanes recently, Iíve come to realize that both that film and Falling Down are two of the rarest treasures among mainstream movies. Both films deal with real people experiencing real problems, and they also happen to be told in the form of a tense thriller. Needless to say, theyíd make an ideal double feature, and both films are truly more relevant in todayís social climate, as scary as that might seem.
I havenít seen this film in quite some time, but I definitely know that itís never looked more fantastic than it does on Blu-ray. This Warner release boasts a truly remarkable presentation of an already effective looking film. The sun baked setting of LA in the early 90s has never looked so astonishingly real, which is one of the many wonders the 1080p provides. I noticed much more detail and clarity in this presentation than on its DVD incarnation. You can practically feel the LA heat seep into your living room!
The film has also never sounded more intense than it does here. Though this is the first Blu-ray Iíve seen to include a TrueHD 2.0 mix, the impact is so overwhelming that I honestly couldnít tell a difference between this mix and a 5.1. The Los Angeles setting comes to vivid life, as every area that the Douglas character ventures to brings with it a nice bit of background sound, whether itís cars passing by or various people in a setting. And when the scenes of tension crack, the lossless sound really lets loose, especially when James Newton Howardís score kicks into high gear. Dialogue is delivered to the ears in a most superb form.
Though I was expecting a bit more in this area, especially since the DVD version is being labeled as a Deluxe Edition, the Blu-ray does offer some nice touches with the small amount of extras provided. First off, the packaging is very nice, as Warner incorporates a hardcover packaging with a neat little booklet attached inside, which is most classy. Extras-wise, thereís a commentary track that features more guests than the package indicates. In addition to Joel Schumacher and Michael Douglas, the commentary also features screenwriter Ebbe Roe Smith, editor Paul Hirsch, LA Times writer Shawn Hubler and supporting actors Michael Paul Chan, Frederic Forrest and Vondie Curtis-Hall. There are a few gaps in the commentary, but overall itís an intriguing and very informative listen, particularly when Schumacher is talking. Also included is a brief featurette titled ďDeconstructing D-Fens: A Conversation with Michael DouglasĒ, and a Theatrical Trailer.
Falling Down was, and remains, one of the most daring and provocative films ever made. More than fifteen years after its release, it hasnít lost a bit of its touch and is still as hard-hitting as everÖespecially in this new Blu-ray presentation. Michael Douglas creates a performance for the ages and Joel Schumacher illustrates that he really is a strong filmmaker.