"A briefcase, a lunch and a man on the edge Each step gets closer to losing his head Is someone in heaven are they looking down 'Cause nothing is fair just you look around Falling down, falling down, falling down."
William Foster (Michael Douglas) is divorced. William Foster is under court order to stay away from his family. William Foster lost his defense contractor job about a month ago (even if his mother doesn't know). William Foster wants to attend his daughter's birthday party. William Foster is stuck in traffic. William Foster's 1979 Chevy Chevette air conditioner has just broken down, on the hottest day of the year.William Foster is having a very bad day.William Foster is about to snap... and he doesn't care on whom.Meanwhile, Det. Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall), on his final day before retirement from the Police Department, faces his own frustrations with reasonably civilized maturity even as he tracks the strange series of violent incidents happening that day, perpetrated by a mysterious man known only by the nickname "D-Fens".Falling Down is a 1993 film directed by Joel Schumacher about one man's mental breakdown, and his feelings of alienation, disgust, and mounting rage against what he perceives to be an increasingly unfair and depersonalized world, accumulating weaponry and becoming something like a vigilante as he travels across the city, shoving people out of his way.The film reportedly inspired the song "Man on the Edge" (1995) by Iron Maiden and the creation of the one-episode character Frank Grimes from The Simpsons episode Homer's Enemy, and received a parodic Homage in the Foo Fighters' video for "Walk".
Anti-Hero: Or Villain Protagonist? Foster is a very angry individual, and is driven to violent insanity by all the little social ills that rational people just learn to deal with. However, he is still very sympathetic, despite his violent rage all he wants to do is see his daughter on her birthday.
Foster becomes less sympathetic when you pay attention to how he treats the Korean store owner like complete crap and trashes the store for little to no reason except that he doesn't want to pay so much. He even flings bigoted racist remarks at the poor guy.
Asian Store-Owner: Whose place gets trashed after Bill tries to make change for the phone.
Asshole Victim: Several variations are shown, almost to the point of deconstruction.
The straight examples are the neo-Nazi store owner and the Latino gangbangers. The former is a twisted racist fuck who even tried to rape Bill when he made it clear that he didn't share the neo-Nazi's sick worldviews. The gangbangers first tried to rob Bill and when that didn't work out, even tried to kill him.
It's downplayed with the Korean store owner, who was needlessly being a Jerk Ass while Bill just needed some change, but one must remember that he has every right to set the prices in his own store. If people opt not to shop there as a result, this is something the owner has to own up to as well. There's also the elder golfer, who's also a Jerk Ass and a malicious, stupid idiot who could potentially have wounded Bill severely with his golfball swing, but having to die right there on the golf course was still disproportionate. Fortunately his debatable death comes about due to a heart attack from overexcitement, rather than direct harm from Bill. There's also the man at the phone booth who was very rude to Bill but was not directly harmed in any way, merely scared shitless.
Averted with Bill's other victims, who were just doing their job or trying to make by. The employees of the fast food place have to obey their company's guidelines; the construction worker was more condescending about it, but this is because Bill was harassing him about it. The terrified family in particular don't qualify in the slightest.
In the cases above, Bill is noticeably more together. He is polite to the employees but still angry at the policy they represent. He also was only angry with the family at first then seemed apologetic for his actions. The store owner, it should be remembered, tried to attack Bill first and refused to reason with him at the start (The only reason Bill was buying to drink was because he refused to give him change). Overall it seems Bill doesn't take anger out on individuals, merely what they represent. Unless they attack him personally.
Predergast also inflicts this on his Jerkass colleague who's insulted him in every scene but Prendergast only snaps when his wife is insulted. He lays him out with a single punch, destroying his retirement cake and an expensive suit in the process.
Attempted Rape: The neo-nazi accuses Foster of being gay, and goes on to try raping him.
Prendergast: Something about my wife. Maybe I never mentioned it.
Sandra: What's that?
Prendergast: I love her.
Ax-Crazy: Ultimately subverted, but it's a close call. Foster doesn't set out to go on a killing spree, he just kind of falls into that pattern accidentally and then goes with it once it's too late to change anything. The fact that some of his victims are Acceptable Targets makes it that much easier for him to become an accidental sociopath.
This is the premise of Foster's story, in a way. It just takes a while.
Beware the Nice Ones/The Dog Bites Back: This movie shows how it could end up with if a hard-working, white collar familyman snaps. Although granted, Foster was apparently shown to have anger management issues in the first place.
Black and Gray Morality: Foster is a bad guy, but the world he lives in and everyone else are worse. Only Prendergast represents a higher moral standard, but at the beginning of the movie he's been so beaten-down by the world (and his wife...) that he's forgotten that.
Completely Missing the Point: Many critics hated this film because they thought it painted Foster as a heroic figure to be admired, not a tragic one to be pitied. Makes one wonder how many actually watched the film...
The film came out roughly a year after the chaotic Los Angeles riots, and was one of many "common citizen fighting corrupted/being corrupted by society" films to come out in that period, so there is precedence in critics thinking that way.
Contrived Coincidence: A car full of gang members pulls a drive-by on Foster. They shoot up the street, hitting everyone except Foster, and crash into another car, killling themselves and leaving a bag full of weapons for Foster to find.
Covers Always Lie: The film's now famous poster (see above) shows Foster in a white shirt and tie with a shotgun in one hand and a briefcase in the other. He is never actually seen with that combination in the movie: by the time he first draws the shotgun, he has long gotten rid of the briefcase and changed into army fatigues.
Crapsack World: Deconstructed, thanks in no small part to downtown Los Angeles less than a year after the big 1992 riots. The movie is an exploration of this concept in a lot of ways.
Domestic Abuser: Bill towards his wife, to the point that she had a restraining order placed against him. Although when she explains to a police officer that the abuse was merely of an emotional nature (which is still just as serious as physical abuse) and that Bill never got physically violent, the cop is dismissive of her complaint, as if she's making a big deal out of nothing. In home movie footage, we see that Bill's anger issues sometimes manifested in scary outbursts directed toward his wife and child.
Dutch Angle: A couple of canted point-of-view panning shots are used in the fast-food holdup scene. These pinpoint the moment where Foster realises it is unreasonable to take a eatery full of people hostage just because they happened to stop serving breakfast a few minutes before he walked in.
Empty Shell: Bill Foster's mother describes her son this way. He barely speaks to her and behaves like a mindless robot at the dinner table, shoveling food into his mouth with no signs of emotion at all.
Going Postal: Foster / D-fens. He doesn't actually do it while on the job (in fact, it's later revealed that he was fired months before and that he was pretending to go to work each day since then), and his lashing out at society involves more threats at gunpoint than murder, but it otherwise serves the purposes of this trope. However, it is subverted by Det. Pendergast who faces much the same frustrations Bill Foster does, but handles them with reasonably civilized maturity and empathy. Furthermore, when the two characters meet at the climax at the film, Pendergast cuts down Foster's whining about being deceived by noting that everyone endures that problem, but that is no excuse for the several violent crimes Foster has committed that day.
Earlier than that, Bill is sitting in his wife's home watching an old home movie. He appears visibly upset and perhaps even a tad remorseful when he sees himself blowing up on his family over something trivial.
Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The gang members manage to shoot everyone on the street except Foster during the drive-by. Although actually, drive-by shootings that kill several people but miss the intended target are known to happen in real life. Combine with blatant abuse of Gangsta Style, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Foster: Take some shooting lessons, asshole.
Instant Expert: Averted, Foster wonders aloud how gang members can perform such complex twisting actions with a Butterfly Knife, and he never learns to do it.
Averted for the gangbanger too; he not only used the easiest, most basic opening trick there is, but he also messed it up.
Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Prendergast asks an Asian American detective to translate what a Korean store owner is saying. The detective points out that he is Japanese and only speaks English.
It's even more flagrant when you realise the actor who played the Korean man (Michael Paul Chan) is Chinese, and the actor who played the Japanese cop (Steve Park) is actually Korean.
Jerkass: Just too many people in this movie: the convenience store owner, the two knife-wielding street thugs, the Nazi, the snooty golfers, the homeless guy, the road crew worker, et al. However, Sandra's new partner is a big one.
Angie: I don't know. Lots of guns. They got all the guns in the fucking world.
Mugging the Monster: The gangbangers attempts to do this to Foster. It doesn't end well for them.
My God, What Have I Done?: Foster has this reaction when he thinks he's hurt the little girl he took as an hostage. Also, while he watches his home movies and seeing how much he berated his wife and daughter he seems to feel a little remorse.
The Nineties: Smog chokes the Los Angeles cityscape on a 110-degree day as Howard Stern blares through construction sites and tinny car radios and flashy rollerbladers go by along the cluttered beach. Oh yeah.
Used in the trailer, even.
"Life in the Nineties got you down?"
Nostalgia Filter: Deconstructed! Foster wants to go back to about three years ago, before he was divorced and living with his mom, and on a thematic level he wants to go back to the early sixties (the age of the "American Dream", and also when Koreans had a harder time getting into the country). Also Prendergast to a lesser extent, but here it's just treated like a "healthy" mid-life identity crisis.
Not So Different: Averted: Prendergast is subjected to a lot of the same pressures and depersonalization and signs of social decay as Foster, but handles it with more grace and patience. However, the neo-Nazi invokes this to D-FENS ("We're the same, you and me"), predictably pissing him off.
Pater Familicide: It's heavily implied that Foster intends to do this to his wife and daughter, even though he refuses to admit it when Prendergast draws this conclusion when they finally meet face to face. Drawing a gun on his family while tearfully saying that he's sorry says it all.
Pet the Dog: Foster has one when he discovers that the people barbequeing are just the family of the caretaker. He immediately stops ranting about cutting his hand on the barbed wire fence, and assures them he has no intention of hurting them and he's just trying to get home to his daughter's birthday. He also reacts in horror when he thinks that he's hurt their little girl — until the father tells him the blood on her is from his own cut hand, he almost breaks down in tears.
He also has a literal Pet the Dog at his daughter's home in Venice: After Beth and Adele make a run for it, Foster watches the home movie from when he bought the puppy. In the present day, he pats the dog lovingly.
Phony Veteran: The homeless guy tries to pass himself off as a Vietnam vet. D-Fens wisely points out that he's barely older than 30 and would've been a kid at the time of the war.
Captain Yardley (To Sgt. Prendergast, the protagonist): I never liked you. You know why? You don't curse. I don't trust a man who doesn't curse. Not a "fuck" or a "shit" in all these years. Real men curse.
Much later at the ending, when Yardley tries to get Prendergast to say a few words and help him look good on camera;
Random Passerby Advice: Foster decides to give a road crew doing make work and snarling traffic up "something real to fix" but can't figure out how to operate his rocket launcher. A kid observing the traffic jam helpfully informs him.
Sergeant Prendergast: Is that what this is about? You're angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven? Listen, pal, they lie to everyone. They lie to the fish. But that doesn't give you any special right to do what you did today.
Thankfully averted when Prendergast is instructed to surrender his sidearm before his retirement by a uniformed cop in the precinct. He opens the revolver's chamber and removes all the bullets before carefully offering the grip side to the officer, taking care to keep the barrel facing away from them both.
Red Herring: Bill's briefcase. He refuses to give it up to a pair of thugs, making it appear to be something of value he needs to hold onto. He later gives it up to a homeless guy who discovers it contains nothing but Bill's packed lunch. It was all about the principle of the thing.
This is also foreshadowing as it's the first evidence that Foster wasn't actually going to work.
Should be noted that once D-Fens realises he's just killed the neo-Nazi, his threats against his wife become increasingly violent and morbid, whilst his actions (such as at the golf course) become more and more crazy. Probably justified, as D-Fens knows that he will eventually be apprehended for his actions, and decides to throw caution to the wind and at least see his daughter one more time.
Serious Business: Getting jumped by a business man with a baseball bat will no doubt piss off some gang members, but shooting up a street in the vain hope they hit what might not even be him? Even that's extreme.
Tragic Dream: William just wants to reunite with his wife and daughter, that's not so hard... right?
Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: Foster's attitude towards the Korean store owner is fueled by ignorance and bigotry. He even uses stereotypical bigoted lines like "do you know how much America has done for your country?" and "you come over here and don't even try to learn English!"
Unfortunate Name: Prendergast's last name, apart from being awkward to pronounce, doesn't fit on a cake!
Unreliable Narrator: Background signs tend to indicate Foster's state of mind rather than what they might actually say. This suggests that the people he meets aren't necessarily as rude as they appear.
Villainous BSOD: When Foster thinks he's accidentally hurt an innocent girl (actually the blood on her came from his cut hand earlier), when he watches old home movies and notices that he acts controlling and short-tempered in them, and finally his Heel Realisation that he's "the bad guy".
Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Happens when Bill waves a gun in the face of a woman eating at the fast food joint and he asks if she's enjoying her meal.
Bill: I think we have a critic. I don't think she likes the special sauce, Rick.
Wall of Weapons: Everything really goes to hell after Foster gains possession of a duffel bag full of loaded firearms.
Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: Or more accurately Why We Felt Completely Emasculated When We Lost Our Job Due To The Early 90's Defense Budget Cuts. It's a major part of the plot and of the subtext of the film; there is no longer one Big Bad who is unambiguously evil, merely a load of lesser evils in a world that some feel is beginning to spin off its axis into unknown territory.
Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Foster, aka D-fens. Even if he was unstable, you can sympathize with him when you see how his country "thanked" him for his services.
Foster himself! Foster couldn't grasp the Irony that the Mexican gangsters and the neo-Nazi were just doing the exact same thing that Foster was doing for the whole movie: dealing with their disaffection by pushing the blame onto easy targets and violently venting their frustrations on them.