1990s Crime Thriller Epic Is Celebrated Director’s Best Film

By Brian Myers | Published

falling down

The list of great films under the direction of the late Joel Schumacher shows a wide variety of genre entries over a 35-year career in the commander’s seat. Whether a coming-of-age film like St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), horror-comedy The Lost Boys (1987), or a superhero epic like Batman Forever (1995), Schumacher seemed to always bring his elevated sense of creativity and motivating personality to every set. But it was his crime dramas that always made the director stand out, with the 1993 film Falling Down serving as his opus.

Bill Forster Breaks

Falling Down follows the storylines of two characters that eventually converge into a climax that is as heart-wrenching as it is intense. Michael Douglas portrays Bill Foster, a middle-aged Los Angeles man who seemingly snaps one day and enacts his own sense of justice on those who are unfortunate enough to cross his path. He’s joined by Sergeant Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall), a Los Angeles cop who pieces together police reports on vandalism, a drive-by, and a shooting in a restaurant that eventually leads him to Foster.

Schumacher directs Michael Douglas brilliantly from the opening frames until his final moments on screen. The director is able to immediately set the intense tone of the film in the opening moments, where Bill Foster is stuck in standstill traffic on the freeway. The summer heat, the broken air conditioner and windows that refuse to roll down, and the intense buzzing of a fly combine to drive Bill to a breaking point as he emerges from his car and walks away from it.

You Can’t Help But Understand Bill

falling down

The intensity from these first few moments of Falling Down are palpable. When I first saw the film in 1994, I could feel the heat from the car and hear the annoying buzz of the fly. When Bill charges out and away from his car, I could feel his surge of relief in a way that only a combination of Douglas’s acting and Schumaker’s direction could have made possible.

Bill Has A Short Fuse

Falling Down is full of moments like these as the rage Bill feels suddenly emerges at moments that would also, at the very least, mildly irritate a typical person. But Bill is not typical, nor does he have a normal response to aggravation. This is shown when he feels he’s overcharged for a soda at a convenience store (he breaks the store apart with a bat), when he’s threatened by two gang members for “trespassing” (he beats them with his baseball bat), when he’s refused breakfast at Whammy Burger because it’s five minutes past the cutoff (he pulls out a machine pistol and shoots it into the air), among many other examples.

Forster Vs. Prendergast

But when I watched Falling Down, the way that Schumacher approached the screenplay was in such a manner that Bill’s violent antics and the witty dialogue that’s thrown in with his rage-fueled rants make him someone that you almost want to cheer for. And on the other side of the coin, Duvall’s cop character presents a totally different personality type and demeanor in a directed manner that makes him absolutely admirable.

We learn that Duvall’s Sergeant Prendergast is on his last day, being forced into retirement at the insistence of his emotionally unstable wife. The couple lost a young child years before, and it’s alluded to that this event made the woman spiral from reality. Both Bill and Prendergast have been handed some bad cards to play as adults, but the different ways each man played them makes the strengths of Prendergast and the weaknesses of Bill show through.

Stream It Now

falling down

Schumacher uses brilliant closeup shots and muffled sounds to create high levels of intensity throughout Falling Down in a manner we don’t see in his other works. When Bill is losing his mind in traffic, getting physically accosted by a neo-Nazi in an army surplus store, or having a showdown at the pier with Prendergast, whether you sympathize with some of Bill’s plight or despise him altogether, Schumacher makes you feel him to your core. It’s a masterpiece from the 1990s and is a solid 4.0/5.0-star film.

Falling Down can be rented on Prime and AppleTV, or purchased on Vudu and GooglePlay.