Thursday, February 2, 2012

100 Movies - No. 35: Falling Down

35. Falling Down (1993)
Crime, Drama, Thriller, 113 minutes
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Starring Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall and Barbara Hershey

Here's a movie that has never received the credit it deserves. It opens with William Foster (Douglas) stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway. It's a hot day  and he's starting to become agitated. Eventually he cracks and just abandons the car. The first part of the story shows us a variety of encounters which don't improve his mood.

He enters a convenience store to get change for the phone, but the insists that he buys something first. The price of soda is too high so Foster questions it. When the owner produces a baseball bat, Foster decides that the line has been crossed. He snatches the bat and smashes up part of the store. His frustration increases when a couple of gang members demand his briefcase as a toll for trespassing on their turf. They don't realize that he has a bat.

Friends of the gang members decide to teach Foster a lesson, but their plans go awry and he's suddenly in possession of an automatic weapon. You can see how simple the plot is up to this point. When he tries to buy something from the breakfast menu at a burger restaurant, he's told that he's too late. He missed the deadline by a minute, but the person serving him won't budge. Foster pulls a weapon and insists. When he receives the meal, he looks at it in disgust. It doesn't look anything like the picture on the wall.

In Foster's mind, he's not doing anything wrong. In fact, we can probably sympathize with him at the start of the movie. How would you react in those situations? I'm usually very laid back, but when someone wrongs me, something inside me rears up. Foster reacts in a believable way.

The clever thing about the movie is that it gradually increases the severity of the situations. At what point do Foster's actions switch from being justified or understandable to being over the top? Where do you draw the line?

I won't reveal how far Foster goes, but it's interesting to see how he thinks. We learn something about his life that makes this particular day something special. When you see what that is, it's easy to see why he started down the path he chose. Michael Douglas delivers one of his best performances as Foster and is ably supported by Robert Duvall who plays a cop that tries to track Foster down. The tension slowly increases throughout the movie in an intelligent way and it's always a compelling story.

If you like Falling Down:

Michael Douglas has incredible range. A movie with a similar feel is The Game. Directed by David Fincher and with Douglas again the focus of the movie, it's a gripping thriller. Fincher seems to enjoy making movies with a hint of mystery, and The Game certainly falls into that category. Douglas was in his late 40s and early 50s in these movies. If they were remade today, someone like Liam Neeson would take over the main roles.

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