William “D-Fens” Foster (Douglas) is caught in a typical L.A. traffic jam. The annoyances about him are beginning to mount up: a buzzing insect, tremendous heat, a child screaming. All of these things are becoming a perfect storm that is about to ignite a powder keg that’s been gathering here for some time. He abandons his car in the middle of the street and begins an apparently aimless walk across L.A. He first encounters a Korean convience store clerk, who he critizes for his accent and exorbitant prices. He thinks 85 cents is highway robbery. I guess he’s never been to a ball game. He picks up the clerk’s baseball bat and begins to “roll back prices”, smashing items he considers too high as he plays a twisted game of The Price Is Right with the clerk. After smashing up the store he gladly pays 50 cents for the Coke and walks out as if he’s just conducted a routine transaction. Next he meets up with a Latino gang, whose territory he unwittingly stumbled into. After an escalated fight with them he leaves a few dead, and now he has a gym bag filled with automatic weapons. Next stop is a burger joint that doesn’t subscribe to the “Have it your way” philosophy. Out come the guns, and his destructive trek across the city continues. Through phone calls we learn that Foster has a family. Or, more accurately, had a family. His wife has a restraining order against him to protect her and their young daughter who happens to be celebrating her birthday today. Now Foster has a destination in mind.
Enter Detective Prendergast (Duvall). It’s is last day on the job. He’s about to retire because his wife is a bit loony tunes. His colleagues think he’s a coward because he’s avoided dangerous jobs, and now he’s taking an early retirement. At one point he’s leaving his retirement party just when the stripper arrives eliciting a comment: “Are you afraid of girls, too?” He’d rather they all think that than learn the truth about his wife. His partner, Detective Sandra Torres (Ticotin) knows the truth and is the only one willing to work with him. He’s been following the seemingly unrelated reports of Foster’s antics. He’s pieced together the real story but no one takes him seriously, so he spends his last day tracking down Foster and attempting to stop him.
It’s evident from the very first frames that director Joel Schumacher intended Falling Down to be a satirical look at American society. He appears bent on showcasing a culture that has become increasingly self-absorbed and, to put it bluntly, rude. The film was made in 1993 amid the Rodney King riots, which the cast and crew reference in the bonus materials. Too bad Schumacher couldn’t have waited for another decade or so. The culture’s impact seems mild in a day of cell phones and text messages. If these elements from 1993 can set off our main character, he would have had a field day in 2009. But it all seems rather dated and pointless in the end. We’d like to think that Michael Douglas’s character is a symbol of the everyman. A substantially good man who is pushed over the edge by a heartless society into performing acts he would ordinarily have considered abhorrent. Unfortunately, the more we learn about him, the more we realize he’s part of the problem, not an unlucky victim of circumstances. He was a “bad” guy long before he snapped. This is not the sympathetic moral guy from John Q, who is forced by circumstances to a violence that we can believe is entirely out of character. Instead Foster is a character who appears to have brought all of this upon himself and is delusional on top of it all; thus we can’t really trust his perceptions anyway. Message lost.
Robert Duvall has the best part here, and he manages to make a pretty weak character come across rather strongly. The cop is underdeveloped and doesn’t get enough screen time. It’s obvious that he found things in Prendergast that Schumacher never did. Michael Douglas is convincing as Foster, and it’s a rather sweet performance, but it might as well have been in a vacuum. Instead of developing these characters or their story, Schumacher delivers a series of events. Certainly they are effective scenes, but he never pulls them together enough to create a strong film. In some ways I felt like I was watching an anthology of stories dealing with the same characters, or at least the same actors. Prendergast’s wife is a complete distraction. Schumacher delivers what he always delivers: some great scenes, but an incomplete movie.
Falling Down is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film follows Foster’s movement across town and is loaded with a lot of location shooting. Lighting is mostly natural sunlight, often over bright to show the brutally hot day the film takes place within. Colors never stand out. They are often gritty and documentary style. They are, however, quite natural. Black levels don’t often play much of a part in the film and are only average. There are a few evident print defects to deal with here. Overall a very average presentation.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track works fine in this dialog driven piece. There are some fine examples of ambient sounds here, but most of the action is front and center. The score is appropriately subtle and low key. While there is nothing exciting at all about this presentation, it fits the mood of the film perfectly.
There is an Audio Commentary provided by many members of the cast and crew. Unfortunately it’s obviously cobbled together bits of interviews and not the work of people sitting in a screening room talking about the film.
Deconstructing D-Fens – A Conversation With Michael Douglas: (10:11) Douglas talks mostly about a lot of the social messages the film attempts to make. He acknowledges how hard this kind of film is to make and that it might not really catch with an audience. He spends a lot of the time psychoanalyzing his character.
You keep expecting some deeper story or meaning to come out of this film. The setup and quality performers appear to promise as much. In the end it reminds me of those conduits from the original Star Trek series. They go nowhere and do nothing. Douglas and Schumacher tried hard to make a point or two with the film. It might have been better had they delivered a film and allowed the points to make themselves. When it’s all said and done the movie presents us…”a day, just like any other day”.