In the opening of 1993's FALLING DOWN, a man known mainly by his
vanity license plate name, D-FENS, has reached his breaking point.
Stuck in a traffic jam that goes on forever, his air-conditioning has
gone on the fritz, the kids in the school bus nearby are hanging out
their windows screaming and a pesky fly is driving him crazy. Doing
what we all fantasize about, he walks out of his vehicle and declares
he's had it. As his figure disappears on the horizon, his fellow
drivers are left dumbstruck as to what to make of this act of courage
Dressed in a white shirt with a narrow tie and a plastic pocket
protector, D-FENS, played with a blend of grace and irascibility by
Michael Douglas, has a crew cut head that is drenched in sweat. When
he walks into a convenience store owned by a Korean, he goes completely
berserk over the owner's inability to give him change. Using the
owner's bat, he trashes the place for no reason other than deep seated
resentment of minorities as he suspects them of having stolen some of
When two Hispanic gang members pick him out to hold up, they find
they have chosen the wrong guy. Although no Steven Seagal, Douglas's
fury imbues D-FENS with extraordinary strength. In no time, D-FENS
becomes an efficient and unemotional killing machine attacking the
people he resents, which covers the vast majority of the residents of
Southern California where he lives. With his pasty white skin and
bright white shirt, D-FENS stands out in the crowd of minorities that
populate most of the picture.
D-FENS has no safe haven. Lost, he wants to return to his
ex-wife's house for his daughter's birthday. With the natural fear of
a deranged ex-husband, Barbara Hershey plays his jumpy ex-wife.
His gripe is not confined to minorities. When, one minute too
late, he enters a fast food restaurant, he finds that he can no longer
order breakfast from its excessively smiling personnel. Grinning from
ear to ear, the clerk and her manager explain that they are not serving
breakfast anymore. It is arguably in this scene when he most touches a
nerve in all of us. Who among us has not been in a similar situation?
When he pulls out his machine gun, all of a sudden he can have the very
thing that was deemed impossible only seconds earlier.
The beauty of Douglas's everyman performance is how polite he
remains to those shocked by his bizarre behavior. His stiff, awkward
walk and his sad story leave the viewer with somewhat ambiguous
feelings about him. One moment you hate him, but the next he begins to
generate some hidden sympathy, most notably in the fast food scene, but
also in others.
In the cliched role of the cop on his last day on the job, Robert
Duvall plays a perpetually mild-mannered detective named Prendergast.
In contrast to D-FENS's seething anger, Prendergast has the relaxed
look of someone about to retire. Unfazed, he enjoys his last day in
his war against criminals. "I don't like you," his boss admits. "You
know why? You don't curse. I don't trust a man who doesn't curse."
(The once beautiful and slender Tuesday Weld, now with rolls of fat,
plays Prendergast's clingy wife.)
"I'm the bad guy?" asks a disbelieving D-FENS when finally trapped
by Prendergast. "How did that happen?" Swept up in a tide of events
that has engulfed his life, he has no idea what has happened to him.
He was just an average Joe Engineer only a month ago before he was laid
Part Orwellian morality tale and part bizarre little movie,
FALLING DOWN both fascinates and repulses the viewer. It is an uneven
and frequently pretentious story that is never as important or dramatic
as it thinks it is. Still, there is a hint of truth in every scene
even if overblown. When the film ends, you realize that it has touched
hidden nerves in strange and unsettling ways.
FALLING DOWN runs 1:48. It is rated R for profanity and violence.
The film would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes