Falling Down (1993)
Falling Down is a stern, if somewhat unfocused social criticism in the form of a pragmatic suspense movie. The film, which was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes, is one of Joel Schumacher's best, showing him handling darker material in a filmatically fresh and relevant way. Michael Douglas plays the seemingly ordinary working man who snaps under the pressure of summer heat, heavy traffic, impolite fellow townsmen and the general strain of modern society. He sets off on a rampage across LA armed with a gym-bag of hand-weapons and a desire to visit his estranged ex-wife and daughter on the little girl's birthday.
Made during the height of Schumacher's status as a filmmaker and Michael Douglas' status as a leading man, Falling Down represents something of a career high for both. Douglas is deglamourized, high-wired and uncontrollable. His performance is powerful and subtle, letting us feel the fundamental sadness and confusion of the character. The supporting roles are equally solid, with Robert Duvall excelling (as usual) as Douglas' opposite. Duvall is a soon-to-be-retired cop of high spirits and self-discipline. He keeps his problems to himself and has specialized in being understanding towards others. Duvall yet again exhibits his deep understanding of the human psyche in a nuanced interpretation of a man with more potential than he normally exposes.
Schumacher's best achievement with Falling Down is the film's intensity. The atmosphere is electric throughout, and we can feel the surface simmering from the tension of millions of semi-unhappy, semi-desperate people stuck together. The Douglas character only represents what so many more have felt like doing one time or another. It is an allegorical report, even if the film has a tendency to get stuck at somewhat irrelevant junctures (e.g. the fast-food restaurant) and even if it remains uncertain exactly which point Schumacher wants to make.