Sometimes it is in the casting phase of pre-production that a
film's success is assured, and so it is with FALLEN, a detective story
and supernatural thriller starring Denzel Washington as Det. John
With a smartly written script by Academy Award nominee Nicholas
Kazan (REVERSAL OF FORTUNE) and deft direction by Gregory Hoblit,
FALLEN tells a detective story with a different solution but classic
police tracking. Hoblit, the director of PRIMAL FEAR, that
underappreciated gem from last year, takes a concept that has schlock
potential written all over it and fashions it into an intensely
compelling motion picture.
"I want to tell you about the time I almost died," Det. Hobbes
tells us in the story's opening line. "I never thought it would happen
to me, not at this age." Washington's warm intonation of the prescient
and insightful voice-overs sets the tone for all of the key events in
As the story starts, a convict on death row faces execution.
Elias Koteas, last seen in CRASH and GATTACA, plays the creepy serial
killer Edgar Reese. Det. Hobbes, who put Reese away, comes to his
execution. Both are utterly confident, with a gum chewing Det. Hobbes
relaxed and a prancing Reese hyperactive. As Reese begins to taunt
Hobbes, Reese speaks in a variety of language, especially ancient
Aramaic, and shoots out his hand to touch Hobbes. Once in the gas
chamber, Reese bursts out singing, "Time is on my side; yes it is."
This recurring song becomes one of filmdom's most effectively chilling
use of a single song.
"Something is always happening," Det. Hobbes tells us. "But when
it happens, people don't always see it or accept it." Soon after
Reese's execution, a series of mysterious murders starts, and the story
surrounds the investigation of these murders.
Det. Hobbes works in a realistically cluttered police station
office. The film's excellent supporting cast includes John Goodman as
his partner Jonesy, James Gandolfini as fellow office Lou and Donald
Sutherland as his boss Lt. Stanton. Although the other actors get
fresh roles, Sutherland plays his usual slightly sinister part. Lt.
Stanton, who knows something he's not telling, tries to get Det. Hobbes
to stop his involvement in the investigation of the new murders.
Director Hoblit's precise staging has it just right with none
better than the touching scenes. With touch playing a central element
in the story, he sets up a fast paced sequence on a crowded city street
that gets your adrenaline pumping. And cinematographer Tom Sigel
switches from person to person using techniques first popularized in
As the story advances, we know more than Det. Hobbes, but the
fascination comes from watching Hobbes unravel the mystery. As Gretta
Milano, Embeth Davidtz from SCHINDLER'S LIST plays a woman whose father
was a policeman who committed suicide years earlier. Milano could help
Det. Hobbes, but rightly fears getting involved.
The beauty of the script can perhaps best be seen in the minutia.
The writer takes care in the fashioning of even the minor characters.
Det. Hobbes, for example, lives with his brother and his brother's son.
One morning at breakfast, his brother looks over and speaks a simple,
"I love you." Imagine that, adult brothers who frankly admit their
love without it being some fake plot contrivance.
Along the way, the clues mount as they do in any good mystery.
Among others, they include an ACLU video of Reese just before the
execution that contains a host of information to be uncovered and items
seemingly as simple as fingerprints. When Det. Hobbes uncovers the
solution to the crimes, he ridicules it at first as preposterous. As
Lt. Stanton explains it, "People want the world to make sense."
In a nice surprise, the completely predictable ending isn't. With
a few carefully chosen and completely satisfying twists, the movie's
ending is one of its best parts.
FALLEN is rated R for some violence and profanity and would be
fine for teenagers. A small part is in Aramaic without benefit of
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes