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Falling Down
1993 - R - Mins.
Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Frederic Forrest
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Watching Michael Douglas in "Falling Down" is watching a great actor at his peak, an actor absorbing his character to the point that he becomes his character. I think we've all felt like his character at one time or another - this film does an impressive job of showing how we'd all like to react.

Douglas plays Bill Foster, a typical American man in his forties stuck in a traffic jam on a humid LA day. He is wearing a white shirt and tie, glasses, and he has a crew-cut. As the horns honk from various cars around him, he finally gives up and exits his car, slamming the door behind him. "I'm going home," he says, and walks towards downtown LA, all by himself.

Bill enters a convenience store owned by a Korean man ("Not Chinese, Korean!"). He wants change for a phone call, but the Korean man says he must buy something first. Bill gets a soda, but it's eighty-five cents. "That doesn't leave enough for the phone call!" he says. "Etty-fihve-ceents" the Korean man mumbles with wrong pronunciation. Bill starts getting mad. He smashes up the store with the owner's baseball bat and moves out into LA. He sits on a gangland's turf. Two Latino gang members try to stick him with a knife and steal his briefcase, but he bashes them with the baseball bat. As they run away, he yells, "You forgot the briefcase!"

Through a matter of events, Bill ends up with a bag of heavy-duty weapons in the hours to come, and he parades across LA like a commando on a mission. He meets a neo-Nazi, an ignorant man on a golf course, and the most hilarious point in the film, when he enters a burger joint and wants breakfast ("We stopped serving breakfast at 11:30" they say. It is 11:34.) He demands that he, the customer, is right, and therefore should have breakfast if he wants it. So he whips out an Uzi. Then they get him his breakfast.

Meanwhile, a retiring cop (Robert Duvall) chases down Bill. They call him D-FENS, because that is what his car license plate says. This is a vital clue for the film later, and the scenes with Duvall are the only cliched points in the film (a cop who is retiring on the same day gets one last big case and finds himself again).

"Falling Down" is "Taxi Driver" with a blend of dark humor. This is an all-American man who finally falls down, who finally gives in, who finally succumbs to the pressure of the world and snaps. He is a bit truer of an American than Travis Bickle, who was deeply psychotic. He is just an Average Joe who snaps under the pressure and flies off the hook. Everything Douglas does in this film is exactly what we all feel like doing at one time or another. He never actually kills anyone, but he teaches people lessons.

For instance, he visits a bridge under construction. Cars are lined up in a traffic jam for miles. In fact, this is the same traffic jam he was in from the beginning of the film. He asks a worker what's wrong with the bridge, and he says they're fixing it. Douglas says he thinks it doesn't really need fixing - they're just trying to spend their inflated budget so they can get more money next year. "I'll give you something to fix," he says, and reaches into his stash of weapons and withdraws a bazooka. he launches a missile underneath the sewer and it explodes the road far away. The genius behind all this! Wouldn't you like to give construction workers something to fix for a change?

But the key to this is that Bill Foster never kills anyone (well, almost anyone). He never even hurts anyone that doesn't deserve hurting. He doesn't kill the golf course man - the golf course man has a heart attack. He hits the Latino gang members with a baseball bat, but he doesn't kill them. He only kills a man when his life is being threatened. He only kills in self defense. This is not a movie about a man resorting to violence to solve his problems. This is about a man rising up to make a difference in a crooked society. A man who fights for cleaner streets, cheaper prices in convenience stores, and happier-looking burgers. This is a masterful concoction of violence and comedy, but director Joel Schumacher doesn't resort to a stereotypical ending.

We would all like to fall down one time or another. After seeing "Taxi Driver," you hope you never do fall down. After seeing "Falling Down," you just hope that when it happens to you it's this funny.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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