He’s just keeping an eye out for Catherine Zeta-Jones.
I’ve long said that there are two topics in film that will immediately ensnare my attention: one of them is time travel, and the other is revenge. Because of this, I’ve watched numerous stinkers of both camps (Timeline and Four Brothers chief among each respectively) but I still find myself going back to my cinematic bread and butter like a housewife from COPS, begging that “he’s not like this all the time, honest!” Thankfully, movies get made like Falling Down, which make me love the abusive bastard all over again. Now, your standard revenge movie usually has one major antagonist: he killed someone, ruined a life, stole a woman, whatever. From the six fingered Count Rugen to Inspector Javert to the guy who royally pissed off Edmond Dantes, there are several juicy, delicious parts for career baddies to play in a revenge movie… and boy, do they look like fun. Falling Down, however… Falling Down goes balls-to-the-wall for broke. The main character (Michael Douglas as the man known primarly by his vanity plate nickname of D-FENS) has been fired from his job as a missle contractor following the collapse of those wacky Soviets, and his car’s AC has just died on the hottest day of the year, near Pasadena, in the middle of construction to get on the infamous California freeway. It’s his daughter’s birthday and, restraining order be damned, he is going to make it home to see her. He gets out of his Chevrolet POS and starts the arduous walk across twenty miles of gangland Cali, a honky with a flat top and horn rim glasses, and people had best stay out of his way.
You see, Falling Down isn’t a revenge movie with a singular antagonist. In Falling Down, THE ENTIRE FLIPPIN’ WORLD IS THE ANTAGONIST. Don’t tell me you haven’t been there: day in, day out, soul crushing job, traffic, summer heat… you know you’ve just wanted to snap, but that pesky sanity is a hard habit to kick. However, the cocktail of circumstances that affects D-FENS (the movie specifically refuses to cast him as his actual name) would be enough, I would think, to give a Hare Krishna reason to pick up a baseball bat and start swinging… and that is why this movie is AWESOME. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not all Mighty Whitey, cube-dwelling power fantasy. The movie is done is such a way that you simultaneously cheer Michael Douglas’ character as he cuts a swath through craptastic California like Sherman marching to the opposite sea. And yet, in the middle of all of this awesome (telling gang members what’s what, chewing out a fast food joint for ugly burgers, taking it to a VERRRRY unsettling Neo-Nazi scumbag) you cry. You can’t help it, but you cry. You hurt. It’s so awesome, but not so awesome that it hurts. It’s awesome, and it hurts, because we’ve all been there, I think, in some way or another. Heck, I’m typing this in a cube farm right now…but I don’t even get a cube. I’ve got a trapezoid, and I have to switch every day. Yeah.
Anyway, the movie. It happens how you think it happens, and it ends how you think it ends… mostly. It’s actually very well written and especially well carried out by director Joel Schumacher, whom some of you may remember from the cinematic holocaust that was Batman & Robin. Turns out the guy can do more than kill movie genres and make so-so Andrew Lloyd Weber adaptations. Who knew? Anyway, the biggest litmus test in this movie is the character of D-FENS who, when done correctly, will make this movie stand out above the slew of generic revenge flicks (which I all love unconditionally, because I’m a fairly angry young man). Ergo, the character of Robert Duvall’s Detective Prendegast, (on his LAST DAY as a cop even!) gives the proper perspective on D-FENS that turns the film into something special and neatly neuters the throbbing satisfaction of revenge that threatens to creep into the movie and turn the viewer into a hearty endorser of, well, a crazy person. As D-FENS himself says, with poignant disbelief during the final confrontation, “I’m the bad guy?” The movie does a fantastic job of making you not want him to be the bad guy, but eventually accepting that yes, he is a bad guy, he is doing bad things, and it was this painful revelation that caused the li’l Charles Bronson in my brain to sit down and weep. Damn it, I want my revenge to not have consequences! I just want that bloody satisfaction! Get me Inigo Montoya, stat!
For extra cuteness.
However, the ending isn’t without it’s little bit of glory for our old, beleaguered anti-hero. In dying, and not killing himself (because come on, even reading this review you know he couldn’t make it through the movie alive) D-FENS has secured that his daughter will get a nice life insurance payout. The character is hard to hate and even harder to love, with one scene featuring the newly-suited up D-FENS (taking a buttload of ordnance from the gang members and some fatigues from the Neo-Nazi in a nice linear bit of “arms escalation”) having a chat with a family he’s currently holding hostage. His words are heartwrenching, and you want to feel for him… but you know you can’t. If anything, this movie taught me something about my love for revenge: it is (aside from a dish best served cold) a theme that is best covered as far away from reality as you can possibly get. To explain… no, explain is too much, let me sum up… Inigo Montoya’s revenge is sweet, and he’s in a fantasy setting which is actually more like a sardonic, taking-the-piss-out-of-fantasy-settings fantasy setting. Therefore, his revenge is sweet. D-FENS, conversely, is portrayed in basically what you would have seen in Gangland, California in the early 90s. The guns are real. His pain is real. Therefore, his revenge is real, and the sad truth about real revenge is that it is very, very sad in terms of both emotion and theme. Additionally, as I said before, the villain is the world and, unlike Scott Pilgrim, when one goes up against the world, the world usually wins. It’s too big of a problem, too big of an adversary and, most importantly, too scattershot. You’ll never win. This film managed to tell me a lot about myself and my angers at the world (mainly that I should try to concentrate them into some kind of hate laser rather than a grenade…although “Hate Grenade” sounds like an AWESOME metal band) and also managed to entertain the heck out of me. It wasn’t the kind of entertaining I get from, say, watching Patrick Ewing hit in the face with a basketball, but more the entertainment I got from The Dark Knight. If you’re the kind of person who can be entertained by having your brain picked like Richard Roundtree’s hair, you’ll enjoy Falling Down. If you’re looking for a generic revenge fantasy bit… might I suggest Four Brothers?
That just makes me want those glasses even more…