Director Joel Schumacher
Screenplay Ebbe Roe Smith
Starring Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Tuesday Weld, Frederic Forrest
Watching Unhinged brought this film firmly back into my memory. I don’t remember loving the film when it first came out. I have always held Robert Duvall in high esteem, and I had a little crush on Rachel Ticotin. Neither of these things have changed. What has changed for me is my recollection of Michael Douglas’ careful, intricate display of a man who snaps in traffic, only to discover that the world has always been broken for him.
From the first scene of Douglas struggling to keep it together in an overheated car in traffic that doesn’t move, one has thoughts of Synchronicity II, by the Police.
“…Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance
He knows that something somewhere has to break
He sees the family home now, looming in his headlights
The pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache…”
Just like the dark looming protagonist of the classic song, Douglas’ William “D-Fens” Foster doesn’t think to wonder why much is happening. When someone asks him where he is going, he just looks back and says:
“I’m going home.”
No one wants to be home when he gets there. His ex-wife, played by Hershey, is used to Bill and his violent temper. She’s not up for putting up for it any longer, however. She has moved on, and hopes against hope that he will too. When she discovers that he is planning on coming to the house for his daughter’s birthday, she begins to fret.
Meanwhile, Bill is ambling through town. He comes upon rudeness often, and he meets it first with incredulity, then unrepentant rage. He leaves damaged property and wounded people in his wake. If anyone planned on using a weapon against him, most likely he gets that too, and uses it on them or someone else who needs it.
Duvall is Sgt.Prendergast, who starts his last day on the job a few cars behind Foster. He doesn’t see him leave, but he hears about it from the person in the car behind him. At first it doesn’t mean all that much, but reports popping up around town get back to him and have him wondering if the incidents of violence are connected.
The contrast between Prendergast and Foster is intentional, of course. They both have trials in their personal and work lives. Only Prendergast has a much gentler nature and would prefer to work things out instead of letting them build up. Not that they don’t build up, though.
The best part about Falling Down is seeing two masters of their craft at work. Douglas has never seemed so combustible, yet unaware of his own feelings. We can see him working it out in every situation, like a toddler just let loose on the world, weapons and all.
The one drawback in the film, it’s that everyone in Douglas’ path, except for one family, offers nothing but grief to him at first. It’s hard to believe that the first person who is helpful to him is a little kid who teaches him how to shoot a bazooka. It is a real nice scene despite or even because of the extremity.
There are a bunch of recognizable character actors in this film. The best of which is Ticotin, who found her way into many good roles in the ’90s right up into the millenium, in which she played in Nava’s American Family. I miss seeing her and would love to find her in something more recent.
The script presents many opportunities for the lead actors to shine and that, they do. Like many Duvall films, this just gets better with age. Schumacher was an easy director to poke fun at, but this is one film that doesn’t give one many opportunities for that pastime.
(**** out of *****)