Falling Down

“How did that happen?  I did everything they told me to do.”

Michael Douglas stars as William Foster who takes a memorable walk through Los Angeles in the urban thriller Falling Down. Director Joel Schumacher does great job getting the full use of visuals and sound to unravel the motives behind  Foster’s actions.

Foster is a vehicle for social commentary …not the most ideal one though as this troubled man makes his way across the landscape with a simple goal in mind. Douglas’ performance is mesmerizing as the unpredictable plot provides great character development as Foster resonates with other characters (e.g. Vondie Curtis-Hall as “Not Economically Viable” Man, a man rejected for a loan at a bank, etc.) who seemingly have causes similar to his…or at least uses that reasoning in his current situation. Foster’s most intriguing element is that no one can pin point his motives not even himself.

None of the characters who encounter Foster, complete with a black briefcase in tow, can explain his actions. They often dismiss them as crazy. The audience gets the best glimpse into D-Fens’ past through a sequence where we see home movies of him and his family, wife Beth, played by Barbara Hershey, and daughter Adele, played by Joey Hope Singer. This sequence focuses mainly on the audio and alludes to an impatient man with a propensity for anger.

“I’m the bad guy?” Foster says as Douglas takes this role beyond a simplistic, limited “angry white male” archtype. Elements of Foster’s antagonistic duality foreshadow the ending climax and his duality with Sgt. Martin Prendergast, played by Robert Duvall.

Prendergast picks up Foster’s activity on this memorable day along with his co-worker Detective Sandra Torres, played by Rachel Ticotin (Total Recall) on his last day as a police officer where he must contend with his overbearing wife Amanda, well played by Tuesday Weld (Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Once Upon a Time in America), and disrespectful co-worker Detective Lydecker, played by D. W. Moffett (Traffic).

Duvall gradually reveals hints of his past and current passivity to Torres. He even furthers his character development regarding his profession as a police officer. Prendergast and Torres also encounter Foster’s mother, well played by Lois Smith (Minority Report) as they continue their unplanned investigation. Foster’s “D-FENS” nickname is involuntarily bestowed by Prendergast when viewing Foster’s license plate as audience get the law enforcement’s point-of-view regarding Foster’s actions.

This film provides a great stage for some memorable supporting roles include Raymond J. Barry (Cool Runnings, Training Day) as Capt. William Yardley, Michael Paul Chan (The Goonies, Spy Game) as Mr. Lee, a Korean store owner, Frederic Forrest (Apocalypse Now) as Nick, an Army surplus store owner, and Dedee Pfeiffer (Michelle’s younger sister) as Sheila, a fast food restaurant employee.

This film was definitely ahead of the times and handles the controversial material well.. Screenwriter Ebbe Roe Smith (The Big Easy) never condones Foster’s actions amid the plot filled with volatile social situations, ill adviced behavior and racial tension involving a wide variety of cultures. The audience knows what Foster is doing is wrong as Prendergast and Torres reinforce that point.

The musical score by James Newton Howard and the sound is well done except for the background sound on a phone call. Falling Down comes recommended (*** out of fours stars) and was filmed in Lynwood, California and eventually the Warner Brothers studio lot due to conditions when the 1992 Los Angeles riots began.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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