Movie of the Week: Falling Down (1992)

Joel Schumacher directs Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall and Barbara Hershey in this action drama where a white man cracks and rampages across a racially and socially divided Los Angeles.

A controversial hit in its day as its anti-hero flirts with racism and fascism in his day of weapons fuelled, urban hiking. It is undoubtedly a white fantasy about kicking back against eroding privilege that will sit even more uncomfortably with newer generations. For context, you are meant to have trouble with the protagonist and his actions. A few jokey quips aside, Douglas’ deadpan performance is meant to be a shotgun wielding Rorschach Test. You pour whatever anxieties and neuroses you want into his lashing out at everyone and everything. The dystopian vision of Nineties’ America is obliquely button pushing. A vision of the world so unbearably overheated and badgering that it doesn’t really give you space to rationally respond, only emote. There’ll be at least one act of rebellious destruction Douglas’ blank yet unhinged D-Fens executes that will ring true for any viewer… most likely stupid fast food policies. There are sops to racial equality… the minor African American characters pointedly avoid stereotypes, whereas other ethnicities are not so sympathetically sketched… Vondie Curtis Hall even pops up as mirror image of Douglas in a memorable sequence. As a heat-check of America’s troubled race relations Schumacher’s glossy and effecting rollercoaster ride can almost be read as the whiteboy’s ‘answer song’ to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. Yet among all the sizzle, the real dramatic meat is Duvall’s sensitive cop who begins to see the patterns in the random carnage slowly making a beeline across LA. One of the perfect character actor’s finest pieces of screen acting. He proves a calm, controlled counterweight to Douglas’ escalating anger and frustration. So there’s a certain degree of middle class, conservative fantasy about Falling Down… it is delivered with a confidence and diplomatic detachment that the film can still be loved as a bareface violent drama or a gritty adventure comedy without losing one’s sanity or soul. Filmed during the LA riots, it has an of-its-moment punch that no amount of big studio production value can ever lessen. In fact it is the kind of movie you genuinely wonder how it ever got greenlit? Warner Brothers must have really not cared about risking the odd $25 million back them. The result: a consistently laugh out loud funny, explosively spectacular urban nightmare. Like a unicorn, it is a one of a kind.


Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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