What better way to celebrate Oscar night than to post about a movie that should have received a bunch of Academy Award nominations and didn’t get a single one. Yes, 1993 was a great year for film, but Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down had one of the finest performances each from Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall and an exceptional, memorable script from actor Ebbe Roe Smith.
It’s a shame this Los Angeles odyssey, which turns 20 years old this Tuesday, wasn’t honored enough then and certainly isn’t talked about enough today. It’s a cinematic rant that would never be released by a major Hollywood studio now (though an indie like Magnolia might, a la God Bless America), and it features an antihero lead with an image that few stars would pull off ever (Douglas’s crew cut was ridiculed enough in the press then – I can only imagine the field day the blogosphere would have with something like that).
Maybe I’m just a cynic who finds a lot of identification in Douglas’s William Foster, a man who’s had enough (with everything) and just wants to get to his daughter’s birthday party. Maybe I’m also just a nice and honest old soul who relates well to Duvall’s retiring cop, Sgt. Prendergast – except I do curse on occasion (or often). Falling Down depicts the duality of my philosophic being like no other movie save for Quick Change and The Fisher King, both of which came out a couple years earlier (wait, does this make me sound crazy?). I love it a lot, and here are some of my favorite scenes illustrating what I love about it:
The most famous and best remembered sequence in Falling Down is kind of like a vignette written by a disgruntled ’90s stand-up comedian. Foster’s trip to a fast food restaurant is still very relatable, not just for people fed up with false advertising and the specific breakfast hours at McDonalds but anyone who’s been frustrated by any sort of service industry experience. But we know better than to shoot the place up. To be honest, it’s a bit unbelievable that Foster would even patronize a Whammyburger in the first place. The scene is just an excuse to make a statement. But that’s pretty much all of the scenes in this movie.
This scene hits particularly close to home for me. Although I was raised on golf lessons and regular trips to the ol’ Par 3, by the time that Falling Down came out I despised golf. Not so much the sport but the real estate it takes up (by the way, see You’ve Been Trumped for more on this issue). I completely concur with Foster that the land should be used for a real park with children playing and maybe a petting zoo. Then again, the crotchety old men here might normally be nice guys with grandkids who love them and don’t deserve to be harassed by the likes of a vigilante. And anyone with Foster’s haircut shouldn’t be making fun of anyone’s hat.
And here’s an actual park with children playing (but no petting zoo), and he’s no more happier. I like the montage at the start of this scene, filled with that hot, dirty atmosphere that’s continued throughout the movie. And then we get one of the most cynical bits ever with the worst case example of a homeless man who lies, won’t even accept a briefcase filled with food and probably just wants money for booze. Would Foster have treated any beggar the same way? Could the movie have given us a genuinely needy person that doesn’t encourage and satisfy Foster’s attitude? Again, this movie has statements to make.
This scene comes to mind every time I encounter a construction site that seems to be bullshit. Especially when it’s near the end of the month. I’m sure this was the first place I heard the idea of city contractors maintaining their budgets with fraudulent work, and it was probably relevant that I got my driver’s license at about the time this movie came out. Like the kid in the scene, back then I also would have been excited about seeing a real rocket launcher in action. Today, though, I see this more as one of the moments when I don’t feel so aligned with Foster and his naive and dangerous last day.
I love this scene for one reason only and it has nothing to do with what’s going on in the foreground (though it does presage a Schumacher film to come). I love it because of the giant butt display behind the action promoting Sir Mix-a-Lot. And yet the scene is frustrating because there’s no way Foster could see that thing and not want to rant about sex in advertising and music. Or maybe he’s secretly a huge fan of “Baby Got Back”?
We need at least one scene with Duvall, and for some reason there are none on YouTube. This just goes to show how much people zoned in on Douglas’s character, look and performance. But Duvall is really good, too, especially in scenes where he’s on the phone with his wife (Tuesday Weld). The ending, set on the Venice pier, is like the ending of a ’30s crime film confined to the moral conclusions of the Hays Code. A protagonist like Foster has to die. And what a death.