Falling Down
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Falling Down

In the mid eighteen hundreds Henry David Thoreau wrote about the years he spent enjoying the natural setting and serenity of Walden’s Pond. He sought to leave the fast pace modern world behind and embrace the slower, natural pace more conducive to being calm and at peace with the universe. I can only wonder how Mr. Thoreau would cope if he found himself in our modern world. If he thought the 1840’s was too much 2009 would most likely push him completely over the edge. This is what came to mind while preparing to watch the new Blu-ray version of ‘Falling Down’. In it a man like any we might brush against while on the way to work is pushed just over his limit spiraling him into a rampage of constantly escalating violence. The fundamental premise of this dark tale is a highly effective one; pushing a reasonable man beyond his rational limit. This type of story depends on the psychological deconstruction of a human being until the animalistic core and primal instincts are all that is left. Years of pent up rage and frustration have been like a pressure cooker with a broken safety valve. The man has gone beyond the point of any mitigation; the point where one mundane frustration will be a spark to a powder keg.

Many films have presented this set of circumstances but few have done so with the emotional power and impact of this one. I have been a fan of this movie for a long time. It blew me away when I watched it in the theaters; I got it on video tape and again when it was released on DVD. This is the type of movie that leaves an impact on you long after the final credits roll by and the lights come up. Now the film is getting yet another release this time in high definition on Blu-ray. Watching it in third new format was like experiencing it for the first time again. I never felt that this movie received the critical recognition it deserved so hopefully this release will provide a fresh chance for it. This set of circumstances and the physiological damage it produces. For success in most any genre it is critical for the filmmaker to establish an emotional connection between the members of the audience and the protagonist. With a theme like this the man is an average white collar worker, spending his career within the claustrophobic confines of a cubical. Everyone faces irritations on a daily basis. Within the context of this movie there is a domino effect with the annoyances, individually minor, accumulating with synergy.

The script was written by Ebbe Roe Smith most of his career was spent as a regularly working actor. Most of that experience was on popular and successful television series ranging from ‘The Twilight Zone’ to ‘L.A. Law’. He has only two screenplays to his name, this one followed by the lamentable ‘Car 54, Where Are You?’ The script here is very well crafted not depending on any one incident to set the chain of events in motion. It is akin to throwing a small rock down a craggy hillside. On its own it is far too insignificant to cause any damage. As it begins to roll down the hill it collides with other rocks starting a chain reaction resulting in a devastating landslide. In this story the central character (Michael Douglas) is left unnamed; identified only by the dirty license plate on his broken down car; D-FENS’ (Defense). One morning he is in his car like is many similar mornings over the years. He is already visibly perturbed and on edge when the little annoyances of life begin to mount up. The man is stuck in a traffic jam caused by road work up ahead. The car is stuffy, rapidly becoming increasingly claustrophobic. The air conditioner is blowing hot air, the window handle breaks so he can’t even open the window. Adding insult to injury a fly is buzzing around the man’s sweaty face. He has a crew cut and wears a short sleeved white shirt and tie giving the impression that he has spent a considerable portion of his life surround by the walls of a cubical; always the worker never the boss.

The man visibly reaches the tipping point and exits his car deserting it on the clogged highway. He takes off through the bushes. This begins a trek through neighborhoods where the man is completely out of place. He meets a store owner who over charges him. The man takes a sawed off bat from him; wreaks the store and leaves after leaving the price of a soda. Later he is spotted by some gang member and trades up to a flick knife. After a failed drive by the man is continuing his walk back home now armed with a gym bag full of automatic weapons. Meanwhile at a local police station Detective Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall) is starting his last day on the job before an early retirement. He was hoping for an easy day but soon strange reports start to come in. Everyone else dismisses them as random acts of violence but Prendergast is still sharp and pieces together what is really going on. Douglas gives one of the best performances of his career. You can see his character slowly disintegrate losing more and more control as the morning wears on. Contrasting this performance perfectly is the one presented by Duvall. While Douglas is a man on the edge of an abyss Duvall is one who is being pushed into retirement. Both men face the change in their work situation, neither willingly but their responses are polar opposites. The detective wants his last day, his final case to end successfully. It is depressing to conclude a career that he love with a failure but the stakes are mounting as the disgruntled man becomes more violent with each encounter compounded by major escalations in his available weapons.

In high definition there is clarity to the video that is stunning. You can see the subtle changes in facial expressions that bring out nuances to the performances previously missed. The audio is robust; fully surrounding you. The visual nuances of sweat dripping from his brow and staining his white shirt reinforces what we already knew; this man is not just experiencing an inordinate psychological break down and an emotional collapse but physically he has passed the limits of normal endurance. He has begun to descend to a point of no return; blood simple. This is a state where rational thought has been suppressed to the point of being extinguished. The only reaction he is capable of is violence targeting anything and everything in sight. The audio has been mastered with pristine clarity. What I noticed most was the ramping up of the ambient noises letting the audience experience some of the mounting stress as the sounds build, drowning out any semblance of rational thought. This is an enduring classic that is best appreciated with this high definition treatment.

bulletCommentary by Michael Douglas and Director Joel Schumacher
bulletDeconstructing D-Fens: A Conversation with Michael Douglas
bulletTheatrical Trailer

Posted 08/25/09            06/14/2015

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