Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey
Director: Joel Schumacher
Running Time: 112 mins
Falling Down is an American film about a frustrated businessman who, one day, gets out of his car in heavy traffic and heads off across Los Angeles, committing increasingly more serious crimes throughout the day.
Perhaps not the powerful cautionary tale of stress and disillusionment with society that it wants to be, Falling Down still impresses with gripping drama, strong performances, and a genuinely unnerving atmosphere that sets it apart from just another crime thriller.
After all, it’s easy to look at Falling Down for what it is on the surface: a story following a cop chasing a madman. Deeper down, however, you’ll realise that there’s a lot more to its story than just that, with a blend of social themes, dark, dark comedy and terrifyingly gritty violence.
As I mentioned, I don’t think that the film’s main themes of a man lashing out against society are quite as resonant as the movie aims them to be. While the way he begins to dramatically unravel over the course of a day is certainly striking, it’s arguably too much even for the story at hand.
For me, films like God Bless America or even (on a lighter note) Office Space have tackled these ideas in more effective fashion, whereas Falling Down feels more like a crime-centric drama than one which really gets to grips with the themes it’s focusing on.
Saying that, however, you can’t deny the staggeringly unnerving story that this film tells about just how easily a normal person can crack, and the devastating consequences that can have. In the lead role, Michael Douglas is enormously unsettling, expertly turning himself from a mild-mannered businessman into a genuinely terrifying and seemingly unstoppable villain on a violent rampage.
Again, where Falling Down perhaps misses the mark is in the fact that you never really feel great sympathy for Douglas’ character, something compounded further by his contrast with the more standard ‘good guy’ police detective played by Robert Duvall. The film certainly tries to bring a more nuanced and thought-provoking view of good vs. evil to the table, but it doesn’t work perfectly.
However, as a pure crime thriller, Falling Down is absolutely enthralling. Along with Douglas’ menacing presence throughout, Duvall is a hugely likable cop with an expert eye that leads him to all of the details and clues that his younger colleagues miss so often.
Couple that with the film’s unrelenting use of violence, some darkly hilarious scenes in the middle act and a sobering conclusion, and there’s a lot that makes Falling Down a particularly striking watch, especially as a deeply unsettling thriller.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with Falling Down. It might not be the thought-provoking thematic masterpiece that it aims to be, but with great performances, strikingly dark humour, intense violence and a deeply unnerving atmosphere throughout, it’s a gripping watch from start to finish, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6.