Looking back at Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down

Has our look back at the work of Joel Schumacher arrived at his finest film? Carley revisits Falling Down...

You think I’m a thief? Oh, you see, I’m not the thief. I’m not the one charging 85 cents for a *stinking* soda! You’re the thief. I’m just standing up for my rights as a consumer.” – William

The Recap

After tackling the weepy genre with the angst filled Dying Young, Schumacher took a very sharp turn in his next project which crafted together anger, violence and unhappiness on a very hot day in Los Angeles.

William Foster (Michael Douglas) is not having the best of times. Going through a messy divorce, his wife Beth (Barbara Hershey) has a restraining order against him, making him unable to see her or his daughter Adele (Joey Hope Singer). He has also just lost his job.

Ad – content continues below

Sitting in a traffic jam on the Los Angeles freeway and with a fly buzzing around his head and his car’s air conditioning failing, he decides enough is enough and that he will literally do anything that he can to go and see his daughter on her birthday, restraining order or not.

Abandoning his car, much to the frustration of the other drivers, he heads over to the nearest convince store to try and get some change to make a telephone call. When the owner refuses to change his money unless he buys something, William flips and begins to shout at him about his over inflated prices. Then the owner pulls out a baseball bat, which William soon fights him for. Announcing he is going to roll down the prices, he destroys much of the store before paying what he believes is a fair price for a can of Coke.

After he leaves the store, he is threatened by a group of Hispanic gang members who hold him up with a knife to steal his briefcase. Angered by their nerve, he chases them away with his baseball bat. Unable to comprehend being scared off by a loan white man, the gang regroups and tries to kill William in a drive-by shooting. They fail and crash their car, killing most of the gang instantly.

Taking a bag full of weapons from the car, William lets the surviving gang member know exactly what he thinks of him and his life before shooting him in the leg and carrying on with his journey.

Ad – content continues below

On his way along, William encounters a homeless man whose story has many plot holes which he soon picks out. He eventually still gives the homeless man his briefcase, which contains only a sandwich and an apple.

Feeling a bit hungry himself, William enters Whammy Burger where he is told that he is three minutes late to order anything from the breakfast menu. He fires a gun in anger by mistake and instead goes for the lunch option, which he is again disappointed with, as it looks nothing like its picture and ensures the staff know so.

The morning’s events soon come to the attention of the LAPD and, much to the angst of his fellow officers, retiree Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall) and his partner Sandra Torres (Rachel Ticotin) begin to investigate and soon discover it is the same person responsible for everything. Fearing the worst, the two begin a race against time to intercept William before it is too late.

After stopping to buy his daughter a birthday gift, William then goes to buy himself some new shoes, entering a military surplus store to do so. When the owner realises who he is, he shows him his collection of Nazi memorabilia. Sickened by this and the fact he thinks he is some kind of hero, William stabs and kills him.

Ad – content continues below

As the cracks in his mind begin to get wider, William turns on a group of highway workers, claiming the only reason they dig up the road is to justify their big budget. He then blows the road up, giving them a real problem to fix. He then causes a golfer to have a heart attack and berates a plastic surgeon and scares him into thinking he will kill both him and his family.

By the time he reaches his destination, his wife and daughter have left, but he tracks them down to a local pier where a final showdown takes place, resulting in the death of William and an end to his day of rampage.

Thoughts & Reaction

When looking at the entire back catalogue of Schumacher’s films, Falling Down is probably the one that sticks out at you the most, as it is the most non-commercial, interesting and thought provoking film.

Taking a look at the mental breakdown of a very normal man who has a very extraordinary reaction to his circumstances, it packs a huge punch and is unapologetic for the stance and storyline it takes.

Taking in the length and breadth of the city of Los Angeles, the film itself is spookily in tune with the thoughts and feelings of the inhabitants at the time. It comes as no surprising that, during the latter stages of filming, the LA Riots began, showcasing the anger that was bubbling under the surface of the City of Angels. Although William’s reasons for his outburst were vastly different to those which lead to the riots, the feelings were still very much the same and the film still stands as a representative of sorts to that.

Ad – content continues below

Taking a step away from his signature cinemagraphic style, Schumacher swaps beauty for grittiness, showing the audience a whole other side to Los Angeles. Away from the Hollywood sign and the movie stars and the studios, some people are just about managing to survive and hold grudges against those people who just make their lives slightly worse.

Maybe much of the sympathy you have for William is linked to the fact the situations he comes across are those of everyday life, which bug you, but you put up with, because what else can you do? The fact he challenges these things  and demands to know why it is this or that way endears him to the audience. He is, however, not a hero by any means. Although he is standing up for the little guy in many ways, he is also dealing with situations in a manner that can only worsen and not improve.

The script, written by Ebbe Roe Smith, is well paced and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you never know what William is going to do next or if the police will catch up with him before he totally breaks down and, if so, how they might deal with it.

Each step of William’s journey and each person and situation he meets along the way are cleverly crafted so that you don’t really see him as a psycho, but as a man frustrated and angered by a system he has lived by his whole life, but has let him down.

Ad – content continues below

The cat and mouse game with him and the police also adds to the tension of the film and the ending gives the audience a total sense of closure and satisfaction.

This type of film requires not only a great supporting cast, which it has in spades, but a lead that can make a difficult role come to life, and that is what Michael Douglas does. His portrayal of William is dark and internal and at many points creepy as hell, but the most impressive thing is that you never once see him as anything other than the character of William and that is what makes this role his career best.

Playing the other side of the coin is Robert Duvall, who really does make an impact as the downtrodden Prendergast, whose life has been almost as downtrodden as William’s, but who has managed to stay on the right side of the law.

Both men command the screen and are a joy to watch. It seems a shame that their acting skills were passed over during the awards season but, as they say, that is life.

Upon its release, Falling Down stayed the number one film at the US box office for two weeks in a row, cementing it as a hit and Schumacher’s reputation as a serious filmmaker.

Ad – content continues below

His next project would be another thriller, this time based on the work of literary giant John Grisham, whose publishing success was soon being superseded by his film success. Next time I will be looking at The Client.

Falling Down Key Info:

Released: 26th February 1993 (US) / 4th June 1993 (UK)Distributed By: Warner Bros.Budget:  $25,000,000Box Office Gross: $40,903,593Best DVD Edition: Falling Down DVD