THE STORY – When 80-year-old independent farmer Willis travels to Los Angeles for an indefinite stay with son John and his family, two very different worlds collide. Mentally declining, Willis’ abrasiveness is both caustic and funny, bringing old wounds from the past and years of mutual mistrust to the surface.
THE CAST – Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen, Sverrir Gudnason, Laura Linney, Hannah Gross, Terry Chen & David Cronenberg
THE TEAM – Viggo Mortensen (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 112 Minutes
By Josh Parham
It is always the hope that when one sits down to watch a movie, the result will be of great impact. So many films inhabit a space that is merely serviceable and, despite their competent execution, not very memorable after it ends. This doesn’t necessarily make them wrong, but one does yearn for an experience that will linger long after the credits roll. However, it is important to note that this event does not solely happen for films that leave an ecstatic feeling of joy and admiration. Sometimes there are films so profoundly flawed that the memory of every poorly executed decision haunts the psyche to a profound degree. Sadly, that is what “Falling” calls to mind: a work that makes a grand statement on how appalling certain methods of storytelling can truly be.
The plot here revolves around a family in crisis. John (Viggo Mortensen) is in charge of overseeing his elderly father Willis (Lance Henriksen) and a potential move. Willis’s health is failing along with his memory, but that does nothing to soften his antagonistic persona that is filled with racist and homophobic diatribes. This, of course, hurts John, particularly as a gay man in an interracial marriage. As Willis’s disorganized mind triggers glimpses of the past relationship between father and son, the two try their best to find some kind of bond and reconcile the pain they’ve caused each other before time runs out.
Mortensen is a multi-hyphenate on this project, operating not only as the star but the director, writer and composer. Unfortunately, almost every role he fulfills is utterly lacking. The foundation of most of these issues comes from his screenplay, littered with wooden dialogue, stale comedy and shallow characters that are plainly drawn. The emotional journey that is taken here feels so disjointed and the momentum is stalled, which only limps the plot along in ways that come across as unmotivated. All of this seems determined to reach a cathartic ending that is painfully blunt and amounts to little more than screaming matches with no real resolution to the thematic weight that is being presented. One cannot also avoid the abundant slurs tossed around with so little appreciation of their worth, nor the cornucopia of hollow and inauthentic character details that feel more designed to adhere to diversity checkboxes. An anti-climactic conclusion with no satisfying observation on the complicated familial ties in life is a final affront added to the chaotic storytelling just as the credits roll.
The filmmaking does no favors either, though Mortensen’s direction may not be quite as offensive as his screenplay. His efforts behind the camera are mostly unremarkable, with a few attempts to bring some flare with kinetic editing meant to replicate the fractured mind of the protagonist. However, this attempt to create perspective within the narrative is awkward in its presentation and the stylization just calls attention to itself. The overall pacing still ends up suffering and Mortensen seems only to enhance the worst elements of his material rather than make any pursuit of elevating it. His exceptionally dull score overlaying most scenes is just insult to injury toward another misguided vision.
Sadly, the performances are just as one-note as the characters they inhabit. Henriksen is a fine character actor who’s been terrific in previous films and one would initially be overjoyed for him to shine in a leading role. Unfortunately, his performance amounts to minimal modulation in tone and he struggles to create a compelling portrayal of such a hostile personality. It is a feature of the character he’s playing, but he ultimately does not manage to find the nuance to make his appearance captivating. The notices so far have not been kind to Mortensen, which is most definitely extended to his bland performance. Laura Linney shows up for one scene in an endeavor to salvage some of this film, but one only feels embarrassment for her task at delivering such cringe-worthy lines in a completely redundant role. The only member of this cast worthy of any kind of praise is Sverrir Gudnason as the younger Willis in the flashbacks. By no means extraordinary, he is the only one who finds some layers in his performance and tries to project some gradation in his portrayal. It’s not a revolutionary turn, but he sticks out in a bombastic ensemble.
The kindest thing one could say about “Falling” is that it is misguided. It seems unfair to label any of Mortensen’s intentions as a storyteller here as malicious, though it is difficult to make such a distinction at times. The lackluster filmmaking is one underwhelming element, but the screenplay is another level of dreadful. The story not only lacks intriguing characters and is filled with stilted dialogue, but it also never justifies the offensive tone and language to some thematically rich conclusion. The performances themselves are not engaging either, as they are left to flounder with such empty material that only a single cast member seems to overcome. There is no doubt that this film makes a significant impact while watching it, but sadly the results are one of the most unpleasant viewing experiences that one could ever encounter.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Sverrir Gudnason delivers the only performance that shows some level of depth and nuance.
THE BAD – Viggo Mortensen crafts a story that is emotionally shallow, often realized through wooden dialogue, stale comedy and bland characters. His filmmaking is mundane at best and awkward at worst, with no attempt to understand the deeper thematic commentary being discussed. The performances are very one-note, either being aggressively histrionic or intensely banal.