Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Viggo Mortensen
Writer: Viggo Mortensen
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henricksen, Terry Chen, Sverrir Gudnason, Hannah Gross
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/23/21
Opens: February 5, 2021
This is one of those rare movies that have their writers sitting in the director’s chair as well, taking a major role, even playing some chords on the piano to punctuate the difficulty of his life. In other words, “Falling” has more than a touch of autobiography: Mortensen imaging and re-imaging his life under the rule of his father who, having looked at the baby he helped create greeting him not with “say dadda” but “I’m sorry I brought you into this world. To die.” We can only wonder how the little one was able not only to survive his daddy’s acerbic personality but why this baby, later on in life, would cater to almost every whim of the dad whose temper could burst forth at any time and whose progressive dementia would turn him into a fierce, cantankerous fool who not only brought a baby into the word to die but would regularly describe his two ex-wives as whores.
Though Mortensen has one of the two lead roles, the film belongs to Lance Henriksen, with a résumé of some 260 roles (including seven that would come out at about the same time as “Falling” and a stack of others continuing the career). Though Henricksen has performed mostly as a character actor, ranging from roles as a clean-cut FBI agent, a vampire or two, a psychotic motorcycle gang leader, his performance in “Falling” may be his meatiest, one that finds the actor who has now passed his eightieth year in full command of his craft.
Half the film’s time takes place forty years earlier with young Willis (Sverrir Gudnason) giving hints of a growing misanthropy and the other half featuring Willis (Lance Henriksen) at his present age of eighty. “Falling” is a film about family dysfunction that shows Willis’s middle-aged son John Peterson (Viggo Mortensen) selflessly taking care of the crotchety old man despite the latter’s insistence that “this is my house and if you don’t like it you can leave.”
Perhaps the most humorous scene, albeit one that you would hardly find funny if you were a passenger in the same plane, old Willis is being escorted from his upstate New York farm to California, ostensibly to find a place to live as he is now unable to take care of his farm. With behavior that makes you wonder when the airline crew would pitch Willis from the emergency exit, the old man believes the passenger cabin to be nothing more than his upstate New York farmhouse, his wife patiently awaiting him upstairs. This leads him into the kind of loud, vulgar emissions, his son John obviously embarrassed but assuring the crew that he will be OK.
The less conflicted part of the film, or at least the scenes with forty-year-old Willis doting like his wife Gwen (Hannah Gross) on their four-year-old son John (Grady McKenzie). Even at that age, a macho Willis takes the lad hunting; when little John shoots and kills a duck, Willis is happy to let him keep the dead bird, bathe it, sleep with it, until they allow Gwen to pluck the feathers and cook it.
But those salad days are now gone. Old Will is not only dismissive of the two wives he chased away, but has all the grotesque features of our last White House resident. He is disgusted that his son is gay, married to Eric (Terry Chen), the latter understanding that Willis’s dementia is talking. Yet John has no problem escorting his dad to a museum where Willis, gazing at a Picasso, tells his granddaughter Monica that “You can draw that.” If you look for nuance on this raging gaffer, you will find it only in his behavior toward young Monica.
How to explain John’s tolerance of his dad? He may think of the time his dad back took him hunting, let him play with the duck he shot, and ultimately, when John at 16 (William Healy) simply could not shoot the deer in his telescopic sights, was comforted with a pat on the shoulder and the statement, “It’s OK.”
We are told that Viggo Mortensen acted in the film he wrote and directed only to win financing. But this Renaissance man, an accomplished pianist, fluent in many languages having lived in Denmark, Spain and Argentina and able to speak English like a lifelong Californian, does the incomparable job of making the audience understand and accept his ability to tolerate behavior that would send most of us running.
112 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+