Falling Down

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"A briefcase, a lunch and a man on the edge
Each step gets closer to losing his head
Is someone in heaven are they looking down
'Cause nothing is fair just you look around

Falling down, falling down, falling down."

William Foster (Michael Douglas) is divorced. William Foster is under court order to stay away from his family. William Foster lost his defense contractor job about a month ago (even if his mother doesn't know). William Foster wants to attend his daughter's birthday party. William Foster is stuck in traffic. William Foster's 1979 Chevy Chevette air conditioner has just broken down, on the hottest day of the year.

William Foster is having a very bad day.

William Foster is about to snap... and he doesn't care on whom.

Meanwhile, Det. Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall), on his final day before retirement from the Police Department, faces his own frustrations with reasonably civilized maturity even as he tracks the strange series of violent incidents happening that day, perpetrated by a mysterious man known only by the nickname "D-Fens".

Falling Down is a 1993 film directed by Joel Schumacher about one man's mental breakdown, and his feelings of alienation, disgust, and mounting rage against what he perceives to be an increasingly unfair and depersonalized world, accumulating weaponry and becoming something like a vigilante as he travels across the city, shoving people out of his way.

The film received mostly positive reviews and is still well-regarded. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 75% positive ranking. With critics pointing at its take on depression, paranoia and anger. The most vocal criticisms came from Korean American Coalition, which regarded its portrayal of minorities to be offensive. It was a modest box office hit. It earned about 41 million dollars in the United States market, where it was the 35th most successful film of its year. The film reportedly inspired the song "Man on the Edge" (1995) by Iron Maiden, and received a parodic Homage in the Foo Fighters' video for "Walk".


Tropes used in Falling Down include:
  • All Asians Are Alike: Prendergast asks an Asian American detective to translate what a Korean store owner is saying. The detective points out that he is Japanese and only speaks English.
    • It's even more flagrant when you realize the actor who played the Korean man (Michael Paul Chan) is Chinese, and the actor who played the Japanese cop (Steve Park) is actually Korean.
  • Anti-Hero: Or Villain Protagonist? Foster is a very angry individual, and is driven to violent insanity by all the little social ills that rational people just learn to deal with. However, he is still very sympathetic, despite his violent rage all he wants to do is see his daughter on her birthday.
  • Asian Store Owner: Whose place gets trashed after Bill tries to make change for the phone.
  • Asshole Victim: Several variations are shown.
    • The straight examples are the neo-Nazi store owner and the Latino gangbangers. The former is a twisted racist fuck who even tried to rape Bill when he made it clear that he didn't share the neo-Nazi's sick worldviews. The gangbangers first tried to rob Bill and when that didn't work out, even tried to kill him.
    • It's downplayed with the Korean store owner, who was needlessly being a Jerkass while Bill just needed some change, but one must remember that he has every right to set the prices in his own store. If people opt not to shop there as a result, this is something the owner has to own up to as well. There's also the elder golfer, who's also a Jerkass and a malicious, stupid idiot who could potentially have wounded Bill severely with his golfball swing, but having to die right there on the golf course was still disproportionate. There's also the man at the phone booth who was very rude to Bill but was not directly harmed in any way, merely scared shitless.
    • Averted with Bill's other victims, who were just doing their job or trying to make by. The employees of the fast food place have to obey their company's guidelines; the construction worker was more condescending about it, but this is because Bill was harassing him about it. The terrified family in particular don't qualify in the slightest.
    • In the cases above, Bill is noticeably more together. He is polite to the employees but still angry at the policy they represent. He also was only angry with the family at first then seemed apologetic for his actions. The store owner, it should be remembered, tried to attack Bill first and refused to reason with him at the start (the only reason Bill was buying to drink was because he refused to give him change). Overall it seems Bill doesn't take anger out on individuals, merely what they represent. Unless they attack him personally.
  • Attempted Rape: The neo-Nazi accuses Foster of being gay, and goes on to try and rape him.
  • Axe Crazy: Ultimately subverted, but it's a close call. Foster doesn't set out to go on a killing spree, he just kind of falls into that pattern accidentally and then goes with it once it's too late to change anything. The fact that some of his victims are Acceptable Targets makes it that much easier for him to become an accidental sociopath.
  • Badass Bookworm: Foster.
  • Badass Combat Fatigues: Foster gets one of those.
  • Badass Moustache: Prendergast.
  • Bald of Awesome: Prendergast.
  • Ballistic Discount: Rendered against a neo-Nazi dealer in army surplus goods.
  • Berserk Button: Insulting Prendergast's wife.
  • Beware the Nice Ones/The Dog Bites Back: This movie shows how it could end up with if a hard-working, white collar familyman snaps.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Foster is a bad guy, but the world he lives in and everyone else are worse. Only Prendergast represents a higher moral standard, but at the beginning of the movie he's been so beaten-down by the world (and his wife...) that he's forgotten that.
  • Brainless Beauty: Prendergast's wife was apparently one as a younger woman.

Sergeant Prendergast: "It's hard to lose your beauty when that's all you've got."

  • Burger Fool: With the misfortune to host Foster for a disappointing lunch.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The water-gun.
  • Completely Missing the Point: Many critics hated this film because they thought it painted Foster as a heroic figure to be admired, not a tragic one to be pitied. Makes one wonder how many actually watched the film...
    • The film came out roughly a year after the chaotic Los Angeles riots, and was one of many "common citizen fighting corrupted/being corrupted by society" films to come out in that period, so there is precedence in critics thinking that way.
  • Contrived Coincidence: A car full of gang members pulls a drive-by on Foster. They shoot up the street, hitting everyone except Foster, and crash into another car, killing themselves and leaving a bag full of weapons for Foster to find.
  • Cool Old Guy: Prendergast.
  • Crapsack World: Deconstructed. The movie is an exploration of this concept in a lot of ways.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Foster has some moments.

Man at Phone Booth: Excuse me! I don't know if you noticed or not, but there are other people who want to use the phone here!
Foster: There are?
Man at Phone Booth: That's right, you selfish asshole!
Foster: Oh, that's too bad. Because you know what? (he shoots at the phone booth) I think it's out of order.

Foster: How did that happen ? I helped build missiles. I helped protect this country. You should be rewarded for that. But instead they give it to the plastic surgeons, you know they lied to me.

  • Going Postal: Foster / D-fens.
  • Happier Home Movie: The film ends on one.
  • Heat Wave: The movie takes place on the hottest day of the summer.
  • Heel Realization: "I'm the bad guy? [...] How did that happen?"
  • Henpecked Husband: Prendergast. This changes by the end.
  • Hero Antagonist: Prendergast.
  • Hollywood Geography: Literally. Somewhat accurate as a result. He starts out in East LA, goes thru downtown, Macarthur Park, Wilshire, Inglewood and ends up in Venice.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The gang members manage to shoot everyone on the street except Foster during the drive-by. Although actually, drive-by shootings that kill several people but miss the intended target are known to happen in real life.
  • Instant Expert: Averted, Foster wonders aloud how gang members can perform such complex twisting actions with a Butterfly Knife, and he never learns to do it
    • Averted for the gangbanger too; he not only used the easiest, most basic opening trick there is, but he also messed it up.
  • It Got Worse: How a really bad day can turn into a freaking nightmare.
  • Jerkass: Just too many people in this movie: the convenience store owner, the two knife-wielding street thugs, the Nazi, the employees at the fast food restaurant, the snooty golfers, the homeless guy, the road crew worker, et al. However, Sandra's new partner is a big one.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Everyone D-fens meets.
  • Kitsch Collection
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Prendergast again.
  • Large Ham: "I'm going home! Clear a path you motherfucker, I'm going home!!!"
  • Last-Name Basis: Prendergast. Sorta lampshaded when in the end Foster's daughter asks him what his name is.
  • Last Second Chance
  • Madden Into Misanthropy
  • Manly Gay: Gay customers at the army surplus store. Also, we get hints that its neo-Nazi owner might be one, despite being a homophobe.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Korean is not the same as Japanese-American.
  • Monologuing: "And now you're gonna die, wearing that stupid little hat! How does it feel?"
  • Motif: "London Bridge is Falling Down".
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Played up as a tale of modern revenge, a kind of Death Wish for the nineties. Robert Duvall's character isn't given any attention.
  • New Age Retro Hippie: Venice Beach.
  • The Nineties: Smog chokes the Los Angeles cityscape on a 110-degree day as Howard Stern blares through construction sites and tinny car radios and flashy rollerbladers go by along the cluttered beach. Oh yeah.
    • Used in the trailer, even.

"Life in the Nineties got you down?"

  • Not So Different: Averted: Prendergast is subjected to a lot of the same pressures and depersonalization and signs of social decay as Foster, but handles it with more grace and patience. However, the neo-Nazi invokes this to D-FENS ("You and I are the same"), predictably pissing him off.
  • One-Scene Wonder: The "Not Economically Viable!" Man. And the neo-Nazi freak is genuinely unsettling.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted. A Gunshot to the leg and a knife to the shoulder are both treated as very serious, potentially fatal injuries.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: William Foster is most frequently referred to (and credited as) D-FENS, his license plate number.
  • Pater Familicide: It's heavily implied that Foster intends to do this to his wife and daughter, even though he refuses to admit it when Prendergast draws this conclusion when they finally meet face to face. Drawing a gun on his family while tearfully saying that he's sorry says it all.
  • Pet the Dog: Foster has one when he discovers that the people barbequing are just the family of the caretaker. He immediately stops ranting about cutting his hand on the barbed wire fence, and assures them he has no intention of hurting them and he's just trying to get home to his daughters birthday. He also reacts in horror when he thinks that he's hurt their little girl (until the father tells him the blood on her is from his cut hand).
  • Politically-Incorrect Villain: The neo-Nazi store owner.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:

Foster: Good! Good, freedom of religion. Now you get the swing of it. Feels good to exercise your rights, doesn't it? (opens fire).

Captain Yardley: (To Sgt. Prendergast, the protagonist) I never liked you. You know why? You don't curse. I don't trust a man who doesn't curse. Not a "fuck" or a "shit" in all these years. Real men curse.
(Much later, when Yardley tries to get Prendergast to say a few words and help him look good on camera:)
Sgt. Prendergast: Fuck you, Captain Yardley. Fuck you very much.

Sergeant Prendergast: Is that what this is about? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven? You're mad because they lied to you? Listen, pal, they lie to everyone. They lie to the fish. But that doesn't give you any special right to do what you did today.