A disgruntled man becomes fed up with the world around him and decides to take matters into his own hands.
This movie is brilliant. It’s severely underrated, criminally misunderstood, and I believe, totally ahead of its time. In “Falling Down”, Michael Douglas has brought to life one of the most believable, likeable, and disturbing antiheroes of all time. It’s a poignant tale of the everyman finally getting sick of the various stupidities, banalities, and irritabilities (I'm coining that if it's not already a word) that plague our modern life. It’s a film that, at the beginning is as hilarious as it is true, but as the film continues, it proceeds to become more real, more disturbing, but also more grounded in its message. It’s ridiculous and insane, but it also cuts deep to the truths that all of us feel at times. I’ve seen a number of Joel Schumacher’s films, but this is the only one I could imagine myself watching multiple times. “Falling Down” turns twenty-five this year but it feels more relevant than ever.
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
The film opens on a traffic jam. Everyday man Michael Douglas (“Ant Man”) finds himself almost unable to breath in his stifling car and eventually he just gets out of the car and leaves, intent on making it to his daughter’s birthday party before the end of the day. As the film progresses, we’re confronted with a number of strange and increasingly violent (yet humorous) vignettes as Douglas goes up against knife-wielding hoodlums, eccentric neo-Nazis, and bored fast food workers leaving a trail of victims behind him in his wave of crime. As Michael gets closer to his daughter, a cop (Robert Duvall, “Widows”) on his last day does his best to stop him before things get out of control.
The best part about this movie is its total originality, and irreverent stance as to what the viewer thinks is going to happen. There isn’t much of a plot other than Michael Douglas’s character (who remains nameless for the better half of the movie, known only by his Car’s License Plate, which reads D-Fens) trying to get to his daughter over the course of the afternoon. But in that afternoon so much happens. There are hilarious yet smart deconstructions of social constructs and norms; everything from inflation; to the American Dream; immigration; suburban neurosis; the nature of crime and endless cycles of gang violence; the correlation of ignorance and racism; it makes statements about the treatment of veterans, homeless, underpaid and unemployed… this film is a perfect snapshot of America in the early 1990s, only with a Pulp Fiction-esque shot of adrenaline to the heart. This movie is freaking awesome.
Another thing that I loved about this film were the characters. As I already mentioned above, not much is revealed about Douglas’s character in the beginning of this film. In fact, we learn very little about the man until later in the movie. He’s portrayed as an everyman; an office worker who simply grew bored of his life and is looking for some way to revolt. He’s risen up to a kind of character one would want to build a statue for; he’s iconic and brilliant. He’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore. We want to cheer for him even though what he’s doing is absolutely insane, because the reasons for why he’s doing the things he’s doing make sense. Why should a can of coke be thirty more expensive at one store than another? It shouldn’t. Bam! Smash the cash register with a baseball bat. Why should restaurants stop serving breakfast at 11:00? They shouldn’t! Rat-ta-tat-tat! Get their attention with an uzi. Stand up to the big man. Fight for what’s yours. Hoorah. We want to believe in what this man because he’s fighting against the stupid things that we all hate but we’ve grown to accept by living in an American society. It’s more than halfway through that we start to see the reason for his breakdown, the reason for his actions. He’s an incredibly compelling character; one that goes from being screamingly hilarious to suddenly extremely dark, frightening, and impossible to take our eyes off. (SPOILERS IN THE REST OF THE PARAGRAPH) Our protagonist’s arc here is so wonderfully pulled off, because as Douglas becomes more unhinged, his motivations become clearer, and everything begins to make sense it becomes apparent that he believes he’s doing something right, like he’s on some sort of holy crusade. He’s an antihero with a reason for being an antihero, which makes it that much more touching when he finally and Duvall finally come face to face and he says the words: “When did I become the bad guy?” None of us picture ourselves as the bad guy; not even the worst of us out there. We’re all trying to get by, to fight for what we believe is right. D-Fens did that in this movie in a way that made me want to root for him, but then when the ending came I was shocked that a film could’ve ever convinced me to root for such a man. A film that’s this polarizing, and has this much to say, is once that I wont forget any time soon. (SPOILERS END)
I thought this movie was absolutely genius. It depicts the American dream better than most films out there. It shows the everyman’s struggle to conquer what he believes is wrong. It gives us a person to root for who is idealistic and filled with bravado, but also a man who is seriously flawed. I really believe this picture was ahead of its time; it didn’t get incredible reviews, but I’d argue it’s Joel Schumacher’s crowning achievement.
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