Michael Douglas sits in a traffic jam in the sweltering Los Angeles
heat. He is tired and sweaty and everything that confronts him - the
flashing lights of the roadworks signs, people speaking loudly in
neighbouring cars and a buzzing fly hovering around his neck - only
increases his anxiety. Eventually it becomes too much and he snaps,
grabbing his briefcase, stepping out of his car and walking away -
to where, he is not sure, all he knows is that the situation is
unmanageable, and he must flee. It's a brilliant scene, and a
cracking opening to a tense and provocative film.
Douglas' character, only known as "D-Fens", also his car
numberplate, thus begins his film-long journey across LA venting his
frustration on all the injustices he perceives around him. Many of
them have to do with his uncertainty about race: he confronts a
Korean shop store owner about charging too much for a can of Coke,
and is not afraid to stand up for himself when he impinges on
gangland territory. As his actions grow more violent, he gains the
attention of Detective Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall), and his
attractive partner, Detective Sandra Torres (Rachel Ticotin). In one
of its few nods to convention, it's Prendergast's last day before
retirement and he must deflect the wishes of his wife to engage in
one last assignment.
D-Fens is not easily likable but he nonetheless hypnotises us with
his rage stemming from anxieties about capitalism, consumerism,
multiculturalism and other "isms" that define our western society.
He represents the urge in all of us at one time or another, to break
from our shackles and be free of the systems that constrain us. Even
though capable of great acts of violence, D-Fens has a great love
for his daughter currently in the custody of his ex-wife, a
relationship which helps make his character somewhat sympathetic.
The best thing about D-Fens and Douglas's performance, however, is
that there is no glee or catharsis in his actions; his anger is
matched only by his sadness.
Made shortly after the end of the cold war and inspired by the
layoff of staff following the downsizing of America's defence
system, Falling Down was
very timely and thankfully the Joel Schumacher who destroyed the
Batman franchise is absent. Equally as interested in ideas as in
tension, he is able to maintain the suspense even through the
unsurprising but necessary conclusion.
The film is presented on this Blu-Ray in full 1080P and is of superb
quality. The audio however is inexplicably and inexcusably only in
stereo rather than Dolby 5.1 or DTS. The special features include a
ten minute retrospective conversation with Douglas about the film,
of which he speaks of highly, and a commentary by many of the cast
and crew including Douglas, Schumacher and screenwriter Ebbe Roe
Smith. Unfortunately the commentary consists of pre-recorded
individual snippets, which are informative but less entertaining
than a group commentary.
I was not familiar with this film before obtaining this review copy,
and it's always a joy when something comes from nowhere and
surprises you. Falling Down
is a great, intense thriller with a provocative central character
and one of Michael Douglas's best performances.
Check it out.