Becoming the Bad Guy (Falling Down, 1993)

Falling_Down_PosterFalling Down opens with the intensely shot claustrophobic sequence of Michael Douglas stuck in traffic.  Full of uncomfortable close ups and an auditory assault, the opening sequence puts you centrally in the experience of a man we only know by his license plate… D-Fens. Having enough, this man just gets out of his car and walks away.

It is pretty clear he is on the edge, and desires to get to his Ex-Wife’s home to see his daughter on her birthday.  He starts to run into minor irritations, such as feeling like he is being charged too much for soda or a homeless man asking for money a bit too aggressively. But as things escalate, he angers a local gang. He eventually starts building up a collection of weapons as he carves out a path of “righteous indignation” through the city.

While the authorities do not connect the dots, Detective Prendergast starts to see that these apparently random events are tied to the same guy.

Falling Down was controversial upon release, as it does, on the surface, feed the white grievance attitudes that seemed to have driven some of the workplace shootings that occurred at the time before the film was released.  And the ads kind of pushed that narrative.  In his first interaction, D-Fens is racist, but it is that racism that we still hear today. He mistakes the ethnicity of the Korean store owner and then rants about immigrants.  This is over being charged 85 cents for a can of soda.  And when he demands breakfast after the fast food place has stopped serving breakfast, it feels like we are expected to understand his perspective as right.

That said, the film ultimately sides on the belief that D-Fens is, indeed, the villain of the film.  In spite of the muddled middle, it is clear he has been in a dangerous state for some time.  D-Fens asks Prendergast how he became the bad guy.  In a lot of ways, this feels like a stinging indictment of people today.  People who spew hate and support cruel ideas are shocked to find out that people do not see them as reasonable good guys anymore.  They seem desperate as they see themselves losing power…and do not understand how the life that used to be affirmed is no longer the status quo.

Even though there are some moments that seem to skirt to close to the line of validating the character D-Fens, Falling Down is still a compelling character study.  And again, the opening ten or so minutes is cinematic gold.  While Schumacher took a lot of heat, Falling Down is a film that proves he had a unique cinematic eye and deserves to be remembered as a respected director.

A Time For Grief, A Time for Theft (Widows, 2018)

Widows_PosterVeronica, Linda and Alice have lost their husbands in a tragedy. They discover their husbands were professional thieves. To add to their grief, they find their lives under siege, specifically from Jamal Manning.  While he is running for public office, Manning is also a local crime lord…and it so happen’s the women’s husbands died stealing from him.  He wants his money and gives them a month.

When she discovers her husband’s records of all her heists, Veronica brings the other widows together to try and complete the next heist that her husband had planned.

Widows is one of those movies that you don’t really get prepared for from the trailers.  Most Heist films are heavily focused on the planning and the heist. Widows is more interested in setting up its characters.  Everyone feels important.  We walk with them as their lives intersect. This is to the film’s benefit.  We get to really know everyone involved, both the heroes and villains of the tale.

Viola Davis gives a great performance as Veronica.  She is both vulnerable and tough as nails.  Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall play son and father of a political dynasty that are at each other throats.  Daniel Kaluuya is riveting and immensely terrifying as Manning’s right hand man.

Director Steve McQueen makes some bold choices in the film (one sequence takes place within a car, and we only hear the actors as the camera stays outside, as the focuses on the car itself). The end result is a very compelling character film that happens to feature a heist.  Managing some excellent surprises before it ends, I found Widows a very satisfying watch.

The Kidd Is Alright (Joe Kidd, 1972)

Joe_Kidd_PosterEx-Bounty Hunter Joe Kidd is in jail.  His opportunity for freedom comes when Frank Harlan wants to hire him to take out the revolutionary leader Luis Chuma. Reluctant at first, when he learns Chuma has raided his ranch (and hurt a worker), Kidd joins up.

Kidd vows to bring Chuma to actual justice, rather than to a lynch mob, putting him at odds with  Harlan.

While Kidd is not a mysterious character, Joe Kidd leans more towards the violent tough guy of Eastwood’s western persona. Joe is a guy who would be happy to be neutral, and it really takes Chuma crossing a personal line.  But his willingness to avoid violent revenge makes him stand out a bit in the westerns of Eastwood.

Written by Elmore Leonard, Joe Kidd is a good western, though not quite as distinctive as some of the westerns that Eastwood had yet to come.

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