Friday, May 29, 2009

Blu Ray Review: Falling Down (1993)

Falling Down
112 minutes
Rated R
Available now on Blu Ray, DVD, and On-Demand.

By Scott Mendelson

For better or worse, Falling Down is the rare 'of its time' social issues drama that hasn't aged a day. The issues at play are tragically every bit as relevant today as they were in 1993. The most shocking thing about it is how unlikely it would be made today. I say this not because of its content or 'hot-button topics', but purely because it is the very sort of star-driven drama that is so rarely made by the major studios today. While it was sold as a thriller, it is not the least bit thrilling. It is a slightly comedic, but eventually sober mediation on discovering that the American Dream just wasn't going to happen for you. As Ray Liotta says in the otherwise forgettable Slow Burn, "Once you realize that you're not destined for greatness, you concentrate on survival".

I actually enjoyed the picture quite a bit more than I did when I first saw it sixteen years ago. While the concept is engrossing and the acting and direction is solid, I always felt that the film cheated a bit by explicitly stating that the lead character Bill Foster (Michael Douglas) was already mentally ill prior to his angry rampage. However, in retrospect, his mental illness and escalating madness works better for the specific film, and the film works better as an individual portrait of a would-be family annihilator than it does as a general story about the disappearing middle class and the scapegoating of society for the failures of individuals. Like Crash or Closer, the film succeeds much more as an individual character study than as an all-encompassing 'social issues' picture. But on that level, it's an uncommonly compelling motion picture, perhaps director Joel Schumacher's best.

The Blu Ray:

The film is given the Warner Bros 'book treatment'. This time, the book portion of the Blu Ray packaging is basically just a collection of photos, critical pull-quotes, filmographies, and a few brief essays. The image is perfectly fine, with bold colors and a clean print, although it won't be demo material anytime soon. Oddly, the audio is only English TruHD 2.0, and there are no 5.1 or 7.1 options on the disc. I'm not sure why Warner went this route, but since I don't have surround sound anyway, I can only state that the dialogue is clean and the sound effects are reasonably balanced against the music and vocals. The other audios are Spanish, French, and Italian. There are also copious subtitle options, although the English subtitles are a bit more paraphrased than I'm comfortable with.

As for the extras, they are shockingly slim. The best bit is a terrific commentary. However, despite the package stating that it's a general audio commentary with Joel Schmacher and Michael Douglas, the track is actually more of an audio documentary, with several participants delivering archival and newer sound bites in a non-screen specific fashion. Most interesting is the discussion about shooting in LA right as the Rodney King riots actually took place, and then debating on whether to film in the debris to give the picture a specific time and place. Schumacher eventually vetoed it, not wanting to exploit the misery of a city on fire. The refusal to do so now gives the film a timeless quality. Aside from the theatrical trailer, the only other extra is an awkward edited ten-minute conversation with Michael Douglas. The interview itself is fine, but its is inexplicably intertwined with random jump cuts and blurry film clips.

The film - A-
The visuals - B+
The audio - B-
The extras - C-

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