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Joel Schumacher is viewed in the eyes of many as villain. His filmography sports a few truly infamous bombs, notably the bizarre buddy-spy film "Bad Company" pairing Anthony Hopkins with Chris Rock; however, his most infamous turkey is undoubtedly, "Batman and Robin." That film needs no introduction or explanation, as it is a standard in terms of bad movies. It hasn't been all bad, as Schumacher has had some stylish hits such as "The Lost Boys," "Phone Booth," and "The Phantom of the Opera." His magnum opus though, is a much quieter, basically filmed, but intensely seething character drama, "Falling Down."
"Falling Down" is the tragic tale of William "D-Fens" Foster (Michael Douglas), on the day he finally couldn't take the daily stresses of life and to put it plainly, snapped. Foster doesn't go on a rampage like Charles Whitman though; he begins his irrevocable plummet, with the simple act of abandoning his car in rush hour traffic. We follow Foster as his descent hastens, due to both xenophobia and an inability to accept change. Foster explodes into a violent rage against the Korean owner of a convenience store, over a 35-cent difference in the price of a soda. Following this exchange, Foster heads down a path of increasing violence, that allows us to be introduced to Det. William Prendergast (Robert Duvall).
Prendergast is the polar opposite of Foster. While Foster works as an engineer, behind a desk, but explodes with violence, Prendergast maintains an even temper, despite engaging in a profession where violence could occur at a moment's notice. As the day progresses, we see just how similar, deep down these two men are (both are experiencing job loss, but for different reasons), but at the same time, how the differences in personality drive them to opposite ends of the spectrum.
Despite the theatrical release poster giving the impression that this movie was an escapist vigilante film, and the film having a number of memorable action oriented confrontations, the soul of this film is the look at the dying soul of Foster. He represents a manifestation of our own daily frustrations at life, but is a reminder of why we must learn to deal with these stresses and why we remain sane people. The film lulls you into a dark laugh as Foster argues with the smug manager of a fast-food restaurant who tells him he must order lunch, despite breakfast having ended only three minutes earlier. Yet, when Foster crosses that line of sanity and waves an automatic weapon the air, it instantly becomes a sickening and tense experience as we watch a man who has truly lost his grip of reality and societal norms.
This unstable man is brought to life through a performance that may rank as the best in the career of Michael Douglas. Foster is a character completely against type; bookish and plain looking, he is the opposite of Gordon Gekko or any other character Douglas had portrayed before or since. Foster appears to be the type of man you could find in almost any office and that it was what makes his tale so chilling. In the recent economic crisis, it would not shock me at all to hear of a Foster type character in the news. If you take away a man's family and his job, what else does he have to help him keep his own sanity?
Douglas plays Foster as sympathetic and tragic in those moments between outbursts. One of his standout scenes occurs as an equally unstable racist shopkeeper (Frederic Forrest in a role far removed from Chef in "Apocalypse Now") attempts to help Foster. The owner looks at Foster as a hero for his own twisted agenda, while Foster is bewildered at what appears to be pure generosity. However, when Foster sees this is just another defective individual, a cold and ruthless psychopath replaces that sympathetic tragic soul. It's a sequence that also puts the viewer in a moral grey area. On one hand, we have a deranged protagonist, but on the other, he killed a Neo Nazi, who moments before, looked ready to murder two homosexual customers out of pure hate. It's an issue that isn't raised in more vigilante films, but here we see the stark reality of a vigilante type like Foster; he isn't able to distinguish between levels of right or wrong.
"Falling Down" doesn't try to explain why Foster was vulnerable to this breakdown, it merely pulls us along for the ride. It's an engrossing film that serves as a constant reminder of the fragility of the human mind. It manages to deliver a character that is, from the get go, ill and should be genuinely unlikable, but walks a morally grey area at times that shows how much of a slippery slope our aggressive fantasies can lead. Douglas' remarkably underrated performance holds the film together from start to finish and his presence makes him pop from the (intentionally) depressing look of the film. Duvall's supporting role is a standout as well and just another testament to the actor's natural gift. He is that beacon of sanity and we sincerely believe that he can help Foster, if he reaches him in time.
I have seen "Falling Down" quite a few times since its original release and each time feels as fresh as the first. It is a unique film that captivates me from beginning to end and takes me on a harrowing ride with Foster as I empathize and hate him at the same time. It is an extremely underrated film, despite gaining a cult following from fans of vigilante films, most likely due to its chillingly real portrayal of what might happen when someone decides to lash out at the injustices in society: both severe and trivial.
The transfer on this new "Deluxe Edition" of "Falling Down" is nothing short of amazing. The remastering work done here manages to make the sickly looking scenery shine, without looking like it suffers from print damage. I have never seen this film look so good. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is full of detail and puts recent big budget transfer to shame in some cases (I point my finger again at Warner Bros. mishandling of "The Dark Knight"). There is no evidence of over tampering with the image as the image sports no sign of edge-enhancement or poor compression.
The English Dolby Surround Stereo track is a solid, clear audio presentation. Dialogue is clear and undistorted and the balance between the louder, "action" scenes is handled well. James Newton Howard's impressive score is faithfully rendered and highlights the film appropriately; not once did it feel contrived or obtrusive. A French Dolby Surround track as well as French subtitles and English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.
Despite the cover displaying the proud moniker of "Deluxe Edition," the overall bonus content of this release is slim...slim but of high quality. The three extras are a commentary track, interview and theatrical trailer. The back case states the commentary is with Joel Schumacher and Michael Douglas, but it turns out, it's much more comprehensive than that, as the screenwriters turn up, as do journalists, and some supporting actors. I was pleased that this track focused on the story, which is what this film is about, rather than the technical aspects of filming. The presentation of the story is very low key for a Schumacher production, so it's obvious we should focus on the creation of Foster's journey, rather than what film stock was used. The one disappointment I did feel was Douglas' inclusion on the commentary is said to be taken from an interview recorded shortly after the films release. I had heard Douglas himself approached Warner a few years back to get this film re-released properly, so not having a new commentary from him is a bit sad. The other extra is a recent brief interview with Michael Douglas, wherein he reflects on the character and his performance. It makes up a bit for the lack of recent reflection from him in the commentary, but is still far shorter than expected. I would take these kinds of extras any day over the standard flood of self-congratulatory featurettes that populate the special features sections of most DVDs, so while some may scoff at the "deluxe" labeling of this edition, I would say in terms of quality, it's entirely justified.
There's not much more I can say about "Falling Down," that I haven't already said. It is a gritty, real film that deserves much more acclaim than it got. This tremendous character study is given an outstanding technical presentation and the sparse extras are still comprehensive in their quality. It's not a flashy DVD release, but this fits the tone of the film it presents perfectly. DVD Talk Collector Series.