Falling Down

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This article is about the film. For other uses, see Falling Down (disambiguation).
Falling Down
A poster depicting an older man standing on a concrete platform, wearing a business outfit, holding a briefcase and a shotgun. Above in black letters it reads: "Michael Douglas". Below in large white letters over a red background it reads: "Falling Down". Beneath that with the film credits, it reads in small white letters: "A Joel Schumacher Film". In the background are skyscrapers and a smog filled sky.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Produced by
Written by Ebbe Roe Smith
Starring Michael Douglas
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Andrzej Bartkowiak
Edited by Paul Hirsch
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
February 26, 1993 (USA)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $40,903,593[1]

Falling Down is a 1993 drama film directed by Joel Schumacher and written by Ebbe Roe Smith.[2] The film stars Michael Douglas in the lead role of William Foster, a divorcé and unemployed former defense engineer. The film centers on Foster as he goes on a violent rampage across the city of Los Angeles, trying to reach the house of his estranged ex-wife in time for his daughter's birthday party. Along the way, a series of encounters, both trivial and provocative, cause him to react with violence and make sardonic observations on life, poverty, the economy, and commercialism. Robert Duvall co-stars as Martin Prendergast, an aging LAPD Sergeant on the day of his retirement, who faces his own frustrations, even as he tracks down Foster.

The title of the film, referring to Foster's mental collapse, is taken from the nursery rhyme "London Bridge Is Falling Down", which is a recurring motif throughout the film.


William Foster (Douglas) is recently divorced, and his ex-wife Beth (Hershey) has a restraining order to keep him away from her and their child, Adele. In addition, he was recently laid off from his job. His frustration grows when his car air conditioning fails while he is stuck in traffic. He abandons his car and begins walking across Los Angeles to attend Adele’s birthday party.

At a convenience store, the Korean owner Mr. Lee (Chan) refuses to give change for a telephone call. Foster begins ranting about the high prices. The owner grabs a baseball bat and demands Foster leave. Foster takes the bat and destroys much of the merchandise before leaving. Shortly thereafter, while resting on a hill, he is accosted by two gang members who threaten him with a knife and demand his briefcase. Foster attacks them with the bat and takes their knife.

The two gang members, now in a car with three friends, cruise the streets and find Foster in a phone booth. They open fire in a drive-by shooting, hitting several bystanders but not Foster. The driver loses control and crashes. Foster picks up a gun, shoots the only surviving gang member in the leg, then leaves with their bag of weapons.

At a fast food restaurant, Foster attempts to order breakfast, but they have switched to the lunch menu. After an argument with the manager, Foster pulls a gun and accidentally fires into the ceiling. After trying to reassure the frightened employees and customers, he orders lunch, but is annoyed when the burger looks nothing like the one shown on the menu board. He leaves, tries to call Beth from a phone booth, then shoots the booth to pieces after being hassled by someone who was waiting to use the phone.

Sergeant Martin Prendergast (Duvall), on duty on his last day before retirement, insists on investigating the crimes. Interviews with the witnesses at each scene lead Prendergast to realize that the same person may be responsible. Foster's “D-FENS” vanity license plate proves to be an important lead, because Prendergast remembers being in the same traffic jam as Foster earlier that day. Prendergast and his partner, Detective Torres (Ticotin), visit Foster's mother. They realize Foster is heading toward his former family's home in Venice, California and rush to intercept him.

Foster passes a bank where a black man is protesting being rejected for a loan application. The man exchanges a glance with Foster and says "don't forget me" as he is escorted away by police. Foster stops at a military surplus store to buy a new pair of shoes. The owner (Forrest), a white supremacist, diverts Torres’ attention when she comes in to ask questions. After she leaves, he offers Foster a rocket launcher, and congratulates him for intimidating "a bunch of niggers" at the Whammy Burger. When Foster expresses disgust for the store owner's racism, the man pulls a gun and attempts to handcuff him, but Foster stabs him with the gang member's knife, then shoots him dead. He changes into army fatigues and boots, takes the rocket launcher, and leaves.

He encounters a road repair crew, who aren't working, and accuses them of doing unnecessary repairs to justify their budget. He pulls out the rocket launcher, but struggles to use it, until a young boy explains how it works. Foster accidentally fires the launcher, blowing up the construction site.

By the time Foster reaches Beth’s house, she has already fled with Adele. He realizes that they may have gone to nearby Venice Pier, but Prendergast and Torres arrive before he can go after them. Foster shoots Torres, injuring her, and flees with Prendergast in pursuit.

At the end of the pier, Foster confronts his ex-wife and daughter. His daughter is happy to see him, but his ex-wife is frightened. Prendergast arrives and acknowledges Foster's complaints about being ill-treated by society, but doesn't accept that as an excuse for his rampage. Distracting Foster, Beth kicks the gun away as Prendergast draws his revolver, insisting that Foster give himself up. In order to leave his life insurance as a final gift to his daughter, Foster claims to possess another gun and prepares to pull it out, prompting Prendergast to shoot him dead before he can see that Foster's gun is only a water pistol. The movie ends with a video film of Foster's past happier days with his family, which he was watching before the showdown, continuing to play on Beth's VCR.


Box office and reception[edit]

The film grossed $40.9 million against a $25 million budget. It was the number one weekend movie during its first two weeks of release (2/26-28, 3/5-7/93).

Reviews for the film were generally positive. Falling Down holds a 73% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes[3] and a score of 56 out of 100 ("mixed or average reviews") on Metacritic.[4] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "the most interesting, all-out commercial American film of the year to date, and one that will function much like a Rorschach test to expose the secrets of those who watch it."[2] Philip Thomas of Empire magazine wrote in his review of the film, "While the morality of D-Fens' methods are questionable, there's a resonance about his reaction to everyday annoyances, and Michael Douglas' hypnotic performance makes it memorable."[5] Roger Ebert, who gave the film a positive review at the time of its release, stated of William "D-Fens" Foster:

What is fascinating about the Douglas character, as written and played, is the core of sadness in his soul. Yes, by the time we meet him, he has gone over the edge. But there is no exhilaration in his rampage, no release. He seems weary and confused, and in his actions he unconsciously follows scripts that he may have learned from the movies, or on the news, where other frustrated misfits vent their rage on innocent bystanders.[6]

Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club has been critical of the film: "It’s seemingly meant as a sort of dark comedy about the petty annoyances of life, and how they can accumulate and become so maddening that over-the-top cathartic violence seems like the only satisfying option. But Douglas’ violent reaction to his surroundings, and the way the film treats virtually everyone around him as worthless, and presents his violence as the comedic payoff, turns it into a tone-deaf, self-pitying lament about the terrible persecution facing the oppressed majority in an era of political correctness and increasing multiculturalism. In its ugly, skewed world, almost everyone but this madman is dumb, incompetent, and offensive, and his only possible solution is to wipe a few of these losers off the face of the earth, then die. It’s a profoundly hateful film disguised alternately (and erratically) as either tragedy or humor."[7]

James Berardinelli wrote "Falling Down is replete with gallows humor, almost to the point where it could be classified as a 'black comedy'."[8] John Truby calls the film "an anti-Odyssey story" about "the lie of the American dream".[9] He adds "I can't remember laughing so hard in a movie."[9]

The Washington Post writer Hal Hinson observed "This guy is you, the movie suggests, and if not you exactly, then maybe the guy you're one or two bad breaks from becoming. At one time or another, we've all thought these thoughts, and so when this downtrodden, laid-off, teed-off L.A. defense worker gets out of his car on a sweltering day in the middle of rush hour and decides he's not going to take any more, it comes as no surprise", adding "as he did in Fatal Attraction and Wall Street, Douglas again takes on the symbolic mantle of the Zeitgeist. But in Falling Down, he and Schumacher want to have their cake and eat it too; they want him to be a hero and a villain, and it just won't work."[10]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film four stars out of five, writing "There's no denying the power of the tale or of Douglas's riveting performance - his best and riskiest since Wall Street. Douglas neither demonizes nor canonizes this flawed character. Marching across a violent urban landscape toward an illusory home, this shattered Everyman is never less than real..."I'm the bad guy?" he asks in disbelief. Douglas speaks the line with a searing poignancy that illuminates uncomfortable truths without excusing the character. Schumacher could have exploited those tabloid headlines about solid citizens going berserk. Instead, the timely, gripping Falling Down puts a human face on a cold statistic and then dares us to look away."[11]

At the time of its release Douglas' father, actor Kirk Douglas, declared "He played it brilliantly. I think it is his best piece of work to date."[12] He also defended the film against critics who claimed that it glorifies lawbreaking: "Michael's character is not the 'hero' or 'newest urban icon'. He is the villain and the victim. Of course, we see many elements of our society that contributed to his madness. We even pity him. But the movie never condones his actions."[12]


The Korean American Coalition protested the film for its treatment of minorities, especially the Korean grocer.[13] Warner Brothers Korea canceled the release of Falling Down in South Korea following boycott threats.[14] Unemployed defense workers were also angered at their portrayal in the film.[13] Falling Down has been described as a definitive exploration of the notion of the "angry white male"; the character of D-FENS was featured on magazine covers, including Time magazine, and reported upon as an embodiment of the stereotype.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

The Simpsons would later use Douglas's character as the model for a popular guest star, Frank Grimes, in the episode "Homer's Enemy."[16]

Iron Maiden's 1995 single Man on the Edge is based on the film, including a chorus consisting of simply the words, "falling down".

The Foo Fighters based their music video for the song "Walk" on the plot of Falling Down.[17]

The French singer Disiz la peste based his song "J'pète les plomb" and the associated music video on the plot of Falling Down.[18]

In 2015 the film was adapted for theatre by Danish director Anders Lundorph. The show opened in February 2015 at The Danish Royal Theatre in Copenhagen starring Nicolai Dahl Hamilton as William Foster.

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ "Falling Down (1993)". Box Office Mojo. 1993-05-25. Retrieved 2012-06-15. 
  2. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (February 26, 1993). "Falling Down (1993) Review/Film; Urban Horrors, All Too Familiar". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Rotten Tomatoes – Falling Down
  4. ^ Metacritic – Falling Down
  5. ^ Empire Online – Falling Down Review
  6. ^ Falling Down – rogerebert.com – Reviews
  7. ^ http://www.avclub.com/article/our-most-hated-movies-of-the-90s-86560
  8. ^ "Reelviews Movie Reviews". Reelviews.net. 1993-02-26. Retrieved 2013-08-18. 
  9. ^ a b "Falling Down". Truby.com. 
  10. ^ Hinson, Hal (February 26, 1993). "Falling Down". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-04-23. 
  11. ^ Travers, Peter (February 26, 1993). "Falling Down". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2014-04-23. 
  12. ^ a b "Kirk Douglas Defends Son". McCook Daily Gazette. March 23, 1993. Retrieved 2012-06-28. 
  13. ^ a b Appelo, Tim (March 12, 1993). "'Down' Beat - Up in arms over Falling Down - Laid-off workers are offended by the Michael Douglas film". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  14. ^ "'Falling Down' won't play Korea." Rocky Mountain News, March 10, 1994.
  15. ^ Carl Scott Gutiérrez-Jones (2001), Critical race narratives, NYU Press, pp. 61–65, ISBN 978-0-8147-3145-1 
  16. ^ Reardon, Jim (2006). The Simpsons season 8 DVD commentary for the episode "Homer's Enemy" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 
  17. ^ "Music Video News: WATCH IT: Foo Fighters "Walk" (Sam Jones, dir.)". Video Static. Retrieved 2011-06-08. 
  18. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrUW3R65lRk.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Falling Down". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-08-18. 

Further reading[edit]

Jon Frauley. 2010. "Moral Transcendence and Symbolic Interaction in Falling Down." Criminology, Deviance, and the Silver Screen: The Fictional Reality and the Criminological Imagination. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

External links[edit]