Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joel Schumacher|
|Written by||Ebbe Roe Smith|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||Paul Hirsch|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$40.9 million (U.S.)|
Falling Down is a 1993 action crime thriller film directed by Joel Schumacher and written by Ebbe Roe Smith. The film stars Michael Douglas in the lead role of William Foster, a divorced and unemployed former defense engineer. The film centers on Foster as he treks on foot across the city of Los Angeles, trying to reach the house of his estranged ex-wife in time for his daughter's birthday. Along the way, a series of encounters, both trivial and provocative, causes him to react with increasing violence and make sardonic observations on life, poverty, the economy, and commercialism. Robert Duvall co-stars as Martin Prendergast, an aging police sergeant on the day of his retirement, who faces his own frustrations - even as he tracks down Foster.
William Foster is a recently divorced man (whose wife has filed a restraining order against him) who has been fired from his job. After his car's air conditioning fails, he abandons the vehicle in a traffic jam on the highway and begins walking home. At a convenience store, the owner refuses to give change for a telephone call and takes out a baseball bat, which Foster wrestles from him and uses to destroy his merchandise, after complaining about his high prices. Shortly thereafter, he is accosted by a pair of gang members. After being harassed and threatened, Foster fights them off with the bat and steals their knife. Meanwhile, Sergeant Martin Prendergast is on his last day of work before retirement. He takes a report from the owner, who describes the fracas.
In a following scene, Foster calls his ex-wife, Beth, from a phone booth and insists he will be coming for his daughter's birthday in spite of the restraining order. Meanwhile, the gang members get a car and track down Foster. They attempt a drive-by shooting with machine pistols but miss him and crash their car instead. Foster approaches them and takes a duffel bag full of weapons from the car. Beth, meanwhile, calls the police, but the officers who arrive are unconvinced that Foster poses any real danger to her.
The girlfriend of one of the gangsters is interrogated by the police, as she witnessed the drive-by shooting. When she describes Foster, Prendergast connects the convenience store incident and the drive-by-shooting.
Now in a fast-food restaurant, Foster attempts to order breakfast despite the menu having been changed to the lunch one instead. After an argument with the manager, Foster pulls a machine pistol and threatens the manager into complying with his demands. After he leaves, he shoots down a phone booth after being insulted by an impatient man. Prendergast and his partner, Torres, begin to investigate Foster. Foster passes a bank in which an African American man is publicly protesting his rejected loan application, after which the man is taken away by the police.
Foster stops to shop at a military surplus store. When Torres questions the owner, a neo-Nazi, he denies ever having seen Foster, in spite of the fact that Foster is still in the store. After Torres leaves, the owner congratulates Foster for the fast-food restaurant incident, believing Foster to have the same racial views as him, and offers him a rocket launcher. When Foster expresses distaste for the owner's racism and homophobia, he pulls a gun and threatens Foster, but Foster stabs him with the knife and shoots him. He changes into army fatigues, and leaves with the rocket launcher in tow. Alarmed by the rambling speech and menacing manner from phone calls made by Foster, Beth again calls the police, who arrive and stay briefly.
Foster encounters a road-repair crew and accuses them of doing unnecessary construction work. He pulls out the rocket launcher, and, with the aid of a boy mistaking the incident for the production of a movie, blows up the construction site. Later, Foster trespasses into private property and walks across a golf course. A golfer intentionally hits a ball in Foster's direction after an argument over trespassing. Foster complains about the golfer's selfishness and shoots a golf cart into a lake, prompting the golfer to have a heart attack, the cart containing his pills. Further into the property, he reaches an extravagant house and complains to the caretaker he cut his hand with barbed wire. After he hears police sirens, Foster considers taking the caretaker and his family hostage, although he lets them go and flees. Beth flees with Adele after more phone calls. Shortly after Foster reaches the empty house, Prendergast and Torres arrive. Foster shoots and wounds Torres and rushes out to Venice Pier, with Prendergast in pursuit. At the end of the pier, Foster finds Beth and Adele. Adele is happy to see him and Foster hugs her, despite Beth's fear. Prendergast arrives and intervenes. Beth kicks away Foster's gun as Prendergast draws his revolver. He sympathizes with Foster's complaints about being ill-treated by society, but does not accept them as an excuse for his rampage and demands Foster surrender. Dispirited by the realization he is "the bad guy" of this story, Foster tells Prendergast he has a concealed handgun. He reaches for a weapon and tricks Prendergast into shooting him; the gun being only a water pistol. Foster says "I would have got you," while Prendergast wipes water off his face. Foster dies and falls off the pier into the water. Prendergast converses with Adele joking on how he's late to his retirement. The film ends with a film reel of Foster celebrating Adele's birthday.
- Michael Douglas as William "D-Fens" Foster
- Robert Duvall as Sgt. Martin Prendergast
- Barbara Hershey as Beth Trevino
- Rachel Ticotin as Det. Sandra Torres
- Tuesday Weld as Amanda Prendergast
- Frederic Forrest as Nick
- Lois Smith as Foster's mother
- Joey Hope Singer as Adele Foster-Trevino
- Michael Paul Chan as Mr. Lee
- Raymond J. Barry as Capt. William Yardley
- D. W. Moffett as Det. Lydecker
- Steve Park as Detective Brian
- Karina Arroyave as Angie
- Brent Hinkley as Rick
- Dedee Pfeiffer as Sheila Folsom
- Vondie Curtis-Hall as "Not Economically Viable" Man
Falling Down was being shot on locations in Lynwood, California when the 1992 Los Angeles riots began. By April 30, the riots were sufficiently disruptive to force filming to stop early that day. Film crews produced more footage inside of Warner Bros. Studio, in Burbank, as the riots continued. By May 4, when the crew intended to resume in Pasadena, initial requests to do so were denied, causing delays. Filming wrapped in late June 1992. Production designer Barbara Ling said, "We mapped this so that you really were going across [Los Angeles] from Silver Lake down to mid-city to Koreatown."
In an interview less than a week before Falling Down's release, screenwriter Ebbe Roe Smith gave his interpretation of what the movie was about. "To me, even though the movie deals with complicated urban issues, it really is just about one basic thing: The main character represents the old power structure of the U.S. that has now become archaic, and hopelessly lost. And that way, I guess you could say D-FENS is like Los Angeles. For both of them, it's adjust-or-die time ..."
Foster's signature haircut was the idea of Joel Schumacher and the movie's hairstylist Lynda Gurasich. Douglas commented on how it helped him get into the character of a veteran of the military or defense industry, "It gave me the feeling of the late 50s and the early 60s, and somehow my character you kinda have the feeling that he came from another time, or he wished or he hoped for another time when things made sense." Douglas would add concerning the character, "There's a lot of people who are a paycheck away from being on the streets and being out of work who did everything right, they've been responsible, they tried hard, [and] they don't know what went wrong! We won the war, where's it all at?"
The film grossed $40.9 million against a $25 million budget. It took the top spot in United States domestic box office totals in its first two weeks of release (February 26–28 and March 5–7, 1993). Falling Down pushed the previous top movie, Groundhog Day, into the second place box-office spot for both those weeks.
Contemporary reviews for the film were generally positive. Falling Down holds a 73% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 55 reviews, with the site's consensus stating; "Falling Down's popcorn-friendly take on its complex themes proves disquieting -- and ultimately fitting for a bleakly entertaining picture of one man's angry break with reality." and a score of 56 out of 100 ("mixed or average reviews") on Metacritic. Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "B" on scale of A+ to F.
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." Philip Thomas of Empire magazine wrote in his review of the film, "While the morality of D-Fens's methods are questionable, there's a resonance about his reaction to everyday annoyances, and Michael Douglas' hypnotic performance makes it memorable." James Berardinelli wrote: "Falling Down is replete with gallows humor, almost to the point where it could be classified as a 'black comedy'." John Truby calls the film "an anti-Odyssey story" about "the lie of the American dream". He adds "I can't remember laughing so hard in a movie."
Roger Ebert, who gave the film a positive review at the time of its release, wrote:
Some will even find it racist because the targets of the film's hero are African-American, Latino and Korean—with a few whites thrown in for balance. Both of these approaches represent a facile reading of the film, which is actually about a great sadness which turns into madness, and which can afflict anyone who is told, after many years of hard work, that he is unnecessary and irrelevant... 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.
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.
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.
At the time of its release Douglas's father, actor Kirk Douglas, declared "He played it brilliantly. I think it is his best piece of work to date." 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."
Contextually, Falling Down was released in theatres less than one year after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. In them, the targeting of Korean-Americans and their businesses by rioters was a point of fact. The Korean American Coalition and Korean Grocers Association protested the film for its treatment of minorities, especially the Korean grocer. Warner Brothers Korea canceled the release of Falling Down in South Korea following boycott threats. The outcry by the Grocers Association in particular was sufficient to see Michael Douglas meet with members at Warner Brothers Studio because they "were there and they were pissed. So we had a conversation and I told them, 'Look, I'm very sorry, but there's a reason the screenwriter picked certain things to put in the film.'" Unemployed defense workers were also angered at their portrayal in the film.
In 2012, Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club was critical of the '90s film "that most stands out for me from that era, because it's such a ham-handed, wrong-headed, self-congratulatory attempt to encapsulate its era's spirit". Robinson added "the film treats virtually everyone around him [D-FENS] 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." She finishes her short review with, "It's a profoundly hateful film disguised alternately (and erratically) as either tragedy or humor." An earlier 2008 review on the site was positive, saying, "Heat used as a metaphor for simmering rage is nothing new, but few films execute sweaty psychosis as well."
On the 25th anniversary of the film's release, film critic April Wolfe of LA Weekly wrote that it "remains one of Hollywood's most overt yet morally complex depictions of the modern white-victimization narrative, one both adored and reviled by the extreme right". Wolfe said "Today, we might see D-Fens and the white supremacist as the infighting sides of the far right — one couches racism in coded words like "thug," while the other wants an outright ethnic cleanse. Ultimately, what both want is to return to their idea of a purer America, unburdened by the concerns of minorities and women". Wolfe suggested that Rupert Murdoch would "go on to bottle that fury and package it as patriotism" in creating Fox News.
- 1993 Cannes Film Festival, Nominated for the Palme d'Or (Joel Schumacher)
- 1994 Edgar Award, Won for Best Motion Picture Screenplay (Ebbe Roe Smith)
In other media
Falling Down has been the inspiration of musical artists such as Iron Maiden, Foo Fighters and Front Line Assembly. The Iron Maiden song "Man on the Edge" is a basic summary of Falling Down, beginning with describing the opening traffic jam, and ending with describing the birthday present Foster buys for his daughter. The Foo Fighters' song "Walk" has a music video that is a recreation of scenes from Falling Down. The Front Line Assembly album Millennium contains several samples from various scenes from Falling Down.
In the video game Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, a character resembling Foster recreates the rocket launcher scene in a cutscene, blowing up a construction site before walking away with a duffel bag.
The band Slipknot sampled the famous "Freedom of Speech" clip in two songs: some earlier versions of "Gently", and "Interloper".
In the song "I'm in it", American musician Kanye West references the film when he raps "Time to take it too far now/Michael Douglas out the car now".
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