Falling Down

Falling Down
Falling Down
A poster depicting an older man standing on a concrete platform, wearing a business outfit, holding a briefcase and a shotgun. Above in black letters it reads: "Michael Douglas". Below in large white letters over a red background it reads: "Falling Down". Beneath that with the film credits, it reads in small white letters: "A Joel Schumacher Film". In the background are skyscrapers and a smog filled sky.
Falling Down
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Produced by
Written by Ebbe Roe Smith
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Andrzej Bartkowiak
Editing by Paul Hirsch
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) February 26, 1993 (USA)
Running time 113 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $25,000,000
Box office $40,903,593[1]

Falling Down is a 1993 crime-drama film directed by Joel Schumacher. The film stars Michael Douglas in the lead role of William Foster (credited as "D-Fens"), a divorcee and unemployed former defense engineer. The film centers on Foster as he goes on a violent rampage across the city of Los Angeles, trying to reach the house of his estranged ex-wife in time for his daughter's birthday party. Along the way, a series of encounters, both trivial and provocative, cause him to react with violence and make sardonic observations on life, poverty, the economy, and commercialism. Robert Duvall co-stars as Martin Prendergast, an aging LAPD Sergeant on the day of his retirement, who faces his own frustrations with socially-accepted spinelessness, even as he tracks down Foster.

The title of the film, referring to Foster's mental collapse, is taken from the title of the nursery rhyme "London Bridge Is Falling Down", which appears several times during the film. It also references London Bridge located in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, which is where Prendergast's wife wants to relocate after he retires.



William Foster (Michael Douglas) is recently divorced, and his ex-wife Beth (Barbara Hershey) has a restraining order to keep Foster away from her and their child, Adele. In addition, Foster was laid off the previous month by the defense agency for which he worked. His frustration grows as, on an extremely hot day, his air conditioning malfunctions and a fly pesters him as he is stuck in a traffic jam. Becoming increasingly upset and stressed, he abandons his vehicle and begins walking across Los Angeles toward the home of Beth and Adele to attend Adele’s birthday party.

Foster stops at a convenience store to get change for a telephone call, but, when the Korean store owner (Michael Paul Chan) refuses to give change unless he buys something, Foster begins ranting at him for charging unreasonably high prices. The owner demands Foster leave the store and pulls out a baseball bat, which Foster forcibly takes. Foster announces a rolling back of prices, destroys much of the merchandise, then pays 50 cents for an 85-cent can of Coca-Cola before leaving. After walking a while, he stops on a hillside where he patches a hole in the sole of his shoe with a piece of newspaper. He is then approached by two gang members who claim he is "trespassing" on their ground. They demand he pay a "toll" — his briefcase — and threaten him with a butterfly knife after Foster unsuccessfully attempts to leave. Foster attacks them with his bat. As they flee, he places the knife in his pocket and continues his journey.

The two gang members, seeking revenge, pick up another gang member and cruise the streets until they find Foster using a phone booth in a run down neighborhood. The gang members spray the street with gun fire, hitting several bystanders, but leaving Foster unscathed. As they attempt to escape, the driver loses control and crashes into a parked vehicle. Foster taunts the one surviving gang member, picks up a dropped Uzi, shoots him in the leg, and then walks away taking their gym bag full of weapons with him. In a nearby park, Foster encounters a panhandler begging for money even as Foster challenges his phony hard-luck story. To the panhandler's great surprise, Foster suddenly gives him the briefcase, which, to the panhandler's displeasure, contains only a sandwich and apple.

Foster next enters a Whammy Burger fast food restaurant and attempts to order breakfast; however, the switch to the lunch menu has occurred three minutes before his arrival. After a tense argument with the patronizing manager, Foster draws a TEC-9 from the gym bag and accidentally fires into the ceiling. After trying to reassure the frightened employees and customers, Foster decides to order lunch, but is annoyed when the burger looks nothing like the one shown on the menu board. He leaves, tries to call Beth from a telephone booth and then, as he is rudely hassled by someone who also wants to use the phone, draws a MAC-10 from the gym bag and shoots the telephone to pieces.

This string of events draws the attention of Prendergast (Robert Duvall), an LAPD sergeant, whose grieving wife (Tuesday Weld) and mocking co-workers constantly frustrate all aspects of his personal life. It's Prendergast's last day on the job before retirement, but he insists on investigating the crimes, much to the dismay of the police captain and squad, as well as Prendergast's spouse. Interviews with the witnesses at each scene lead Prendergast to realize that the same person may be responsible for these crimes. Foster's “D-FENS” vanity license plate proves to be an important lead, because Prendergast remembers being in a traffic jam earlier that day when someone matching the suspect's description stormed off the freeway on foot. Prendergast and his partner, Detective Sandra Torres (Rachel Ticotin), visit Foster's mother, who says that her son blames her for his divorce, and expresses surprise that he has managed to keep losing his job a secret from her. They realize Foster is heading toward his former family's home in Venice, California and rush to intercept him.

Continuing on his journey, Foster passes a bank where a man (dressed identically to Foster) is protesting at being rejected for a loan application. He is holding a sign stating that he is "not economically viable": the reason the bank gave for the rejection. The man exchanges a glance with Foster, then asks him to "remember me". Foster acknowledges the man's request as he is escorted away by police. Foster then buys a snow globe as a birthday present for Adele and stops at a military surplus store to buy a new pair of shoes. The owner (Frederic Forrest), a white supremacist, has heard about the Whammy Burger event on his police scanner, and diverts Torres’ attention when she comes in to ask a few questions. After she leaves, he shows Foster his collection of Nazi paraphernalia, including a used can of Zyklon B. He offers Foster a rocket launcher from his weapons hoard, and congratulates him for shooting up "a bunch of niggers" at the Whammy Burger. When Foster expresses his distaste for the store owner's racism and attempts to leave, the proprietor pulls out a gun, smashes the snow globe, and attempts to handcuff him. Foster stabs the store owner with his knife and then shoots and kills him. He changes into army fatigues and boots, takes the rocket launcher, and starts walking again.

Next, Foster encounters a road repair crew, whose members are not doing much actual work. Accusing them of doing unnecessary repairs to justify their budget, he pulls out the rocket launcher, but does not know how to use it. As Foster struggles with the rocket launcher, a young boy playing nearby explains how it works, claiming to have seen one used on TV. Foster accidentally fires the launcher, and blows up the construction site. His travels then bring him to a golf course, where he trespasses and a golfer angrily hits a ball in his direction. Fed up with the constant annoyances and attacks, Foster retaliates by shooting the man’s golf cart with a shotgun, causing it to roll into a nearby water hazard. The golfer suffers a heart attack and begs in vain for his medication, which is in the sinking cart.

Climbing over a wall, Foster cuts his hand on barbed wire and finds himself on the grounds of a mansion whose owner is out of town. He rages about this display of wealth to the first man he sees, one of the owner’s employees, then hides on the grounds with the man and his family as the police are heard at the golf course. He tells them about his troubles, and laments being discarded as obsolete after years of loyal service. The man offers to let Foster take him as a hostage if he will let his family go free. Foster explains that he has his own family, and that he is trying to get home to make things go back to the way they were before his divorce, and departs.

By the time Foster reaches Beth’s house, she has already called the police and has fled with Adele. As he watches home movies recorded during their marriage, he realizes that his frequent outbursts had put stress on his family. He also realizes that they may have gone to a nearby pier, but Prendergast and Torres arrive before he can go after them. Torres tries to enter at the rear of the house, but Foster wounds her with a gunshot and flees with Prendergast in pursuit.

At the end of Venice Fishing Pier, Foster confronts his ex-wife and daughter. His daughter is happy to see him, but his ex-wife is frightened as he forcefully kisses her, and she tries to keep him from Adele. Prendergast arrives on the pier, where he acknowledges Foster's complaints about being ill-treated by society, but does not accept that as an excuse for his violent rampage. While distracting Foster, Beth kicks away the gun as Prendergast draws his revolver, insisting that Foster give himself up.

Foster proposes an Old West-style showdown. Prendergast attempts to reason with Foster, who refuses to give himself up, saying he would not want his daughter to grow up with her father in prison and, if he dies, she will get his life insurance policy. Foster then pulls a water gun on Prendergast, committing suicide by cop by forcing Prendergast to shoot him. Seeing a water stain on Prendergast's shirt, Foster laughs and says, "I would've gotcha," before falling dead into the ocean. Prendergast's supervisor, Captain Yardley, congratulates him on a job well done; however, Prendergast disdains his congratulatory thanks and replies "Fuck you Captain Yardley, fuck you very much." Prendergast decides to postpone his retirement.


Box office and reception

According to Boxofficemojo.com, the film grossed over $40 million domestically. It was the number one weekend movie during its first two weeks of release (2/26-28, 3/5-7/93)

Reviews for the film were positive, with a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes[2] and a 56 out of 100 on Metacritic.[3] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "the most interesting, all-out commercial American film of the year to date, and one that will function much like a Rorschach test to expose the secrets of those who watch it."[4] Philip Thomas of Empire magazine wrote on his review of the film, "While the morality of D-Fens' methods are questionable, there's a resonance about his reaction to everyday annoyances, and Michael Douglas' hypnotic performance makes it memorable."[5] Roger Ebert, who gave the film a positive review at the time of its release, stated of William "D-Fens" Foster:

What is fascinating about the Douglas character, as written and played, is the core of sadness in his soul. Yes, by the time we meet him, he has gone over the edge. But there is no exhilaration in his rampage, no release. He seems weary and confused, and in his actions he unconsciously follows scripts that he may have learned from the movies, or on the news, where other frustrated misfits vent their rage on innocent bystanders.[6]


The Korean American Coalition protested the film for its treatment of minorities, especially the Korean grocer.[7] Warner Brothers Korea canceled the release of Falling Down in South Korea following boycott threats.[8] Unemployed defense workers were also angered at their portrayal in the film.[7] Falling Down has been described as a definitive exploration of the notion of the "angry white male"; the character of D-FENS was featured on magazine covers and reported upon as an embodiment of the stereotype.[9]

Cultural references

  • The Front Line Assembly album Millennium samples the movie heavily, as well as thematically relating the songs, specifically the track "Vigilante".
  • Rock band Foo Fighters humorously recreated the events of the film in the music video for the song "Walk" from their 2011 album Wasting Light.

Awards and nominations

  • 1993 Camerimage, Nominated for the Golden Frog (Andrzej Bartkowiak)
  • 1993 Cannes Film Festival, Nominated for the Palme d'Or (Joel Schumacher)[10]
  • 1994 Edgar Award, Won for Best Motion Picture Screenplay (Ebbe Roe Smith)


External links

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