It's shaping up to be the hottest day of the year so far in Los Angeles, which will not help the tempers of its citizens, and certainly not the man sitting in the middle of this traffic jam, sweltering and trying to keep his frustration from boiling over. Everywhere around him is the source of potential rage: the fly inside the car, the honking horns, the misbehaving kids in the school bus nearby, people talking obnoxiously loudly on their phones, and as he tries to block out the sound by rolling up the window the handle breaks. There's only one thing for it - get out and go home.
Except that the modern malaise of the 1990s was so prevalent that simply stepping out of the vehicle and walking off your anger would not help, as it seemed as if everyone in this urban jungle had been put on this earth to infuriate everyone else. Falling Down was hugely controversial at the time, as if it was inviting its audiences to, to echo the slogan of Network of some twenty years before, get mad as hell and not take it anymore, and to do so with violence and intolerance that a sense of entitlement to a life that went without hitches would offer you. There were those who strongly identified with D-FENS, the Michael Douglas character who goes for his walk, after all.
Yet it would appear that while many of those who counted the film among their favourites took the whole message they perceived of taking the petty injustices of modern living way too personally without any irony, Ebbe Roe Smith's script was a lot more ambiguous by its climax than it was at the beginning. Even Joel Schumacher took the opportunity to set up his film as a rebuttal to what he saw as "politically correct" films and their "fairy tale" worlds, as if he did not quite cotton on to the way in which D-FENS starts the film as a victimised everyman and ends it as an outright psychopath, revealed as intent on carrying out a hateful crime.
Perhaps the key to the movie was not Douglas, excellent though he was, and his encounters with the type of people most would have no qualms about keeping as far away from as possible, and more with his counterpart. He is Detective Prendergast (the equally great Robert Duvall), and he was in the same traffic jam, except he treats the inconvenience not as the worst thing ever to happen in the history of the world, but with good humour and patience. That's because we find out later the worst thing ever has already happened to him some years before, and he can cope with annoyances like this knowing he has a sense of proportion that D-FENS has lost, if indeed he ever had it. Prendergast is on his last day on the force, which in cop cliché would mean his impending doom.
But Falling Down did not go for the obvious, or not every time at any rate, as the detective, who has spent the last few years behind a desk and the butt of his colleagues' jokes, finally cottons on that if he wants to be a participant in life he must take risks no matter how much his highly strung wife (Tuesday Weld) wishes he won't. So it is he who pieces together these reports of this lone white middle-aged male in shirt and tie who is marching across L.A. and leaving a trail of mayhem behind him. D-FENS, named after his car number plate, takes care to point out he is just a normal guy, no extremist (Frederic Forrest's neo-Nazi finds that out the hard way) and not about to let society keep him down either. Gradually we realise he is not normal at all, has an ex-wife (Barbara Hershey) terrified that he has called to to say he's on his way home, and whatever was wrong with contemporary America it really needs to be fixed as the cracks are starting to show. Yes, it was schematic and dubiously button-pushing, but Falling Down did capture the uneasy tension of the era. Music by James Newton Howard.
American director and occasional writer who rather unfairly won a reputation as one of the worst in Hollywood when he was really only as good as the material he was given. Starting as a costume designer (working with Woody Allen), he went onto a couple of TV movies - screenwriting Car Wash, Sparkle and The Wiz between them - and then a feature, spoof The Incredible Shrinking Woman. D.C. Cab followed, then a couple of eighties-defining teen hits, St. Elmo's Fire and The Lost Boys, and remake Cousins.
In the nineties, he was offered higher profile movies, including supernatural Flatliners, cult urban nightmare Falling Down, John Grisham adaptations The Client and A Time To Kill, blockbusting camp Batman Forever and the much-maligned Batman & Robin, and grotty 8MM. 1999's Flawless signalled a change to smaller scale works: army drama Tigerland, true life tale Veronica Guerin and thriller Phone Booth. Lavish musical The Phantom of the Opera (Andrew Lloyd Webber was a Lost Boys fan) was a return to the overblown blockbusters, but it flopped, as did his conspiracy thriller The Number 23.