Film: Falling Down

"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".

This movie contains examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Foster himself at the end.
  • An Aesop: Going Postal is not a good way to deal with life.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Nick the Nazi, who graphically fantasizes about Foster getting Prison Raped by a black man.
  • Artistic License Law: In real life, Foster's Suicide by Cop would leave his family with nothing, because insurance companies do not pay out benefits for losses incurred during the commission of a felony.
  • Asian Rudeness: The Korean shopkeeper refuses to give Bill any change unless he buys something, and when his high prices won't leave Bill any change to make a phone call, the guy tells him to get lost. Of course Bill's response is admittedly less than kosher, making fun of his english and asking if they have "V's" in China. (In his bad english, he said the soda was "seventy-fi cents".)
  • 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 hoodlums. The former is a twisted racist fuck who was ready to shoot an innocent man for daring to be put off by his slurs, and plans to send Bill off to prison to be, in his own words "fucked by that big nigger cock" The hoodlums 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.(To be fair, Bill came in there only to use the phone, and going for a bat to beat him senseless instead of saying "I think you go or I call the cops" was definitely going too far.) 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.
  • A-Team Firing: Gang members attempt to get revenge on Bud Foster during a drive by shooting, but end up wounding everyone else on the block but him; before crashing into a telephone pole and dying themselves.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Prendergast and his wife, who has some unspecified mental illness. After he's been shown to be constantly needled by his workmates for sacrificing so much of his life and career to her, he says:
    Prendergast: Something about my wife. Maybe I never mentioned it.
    Sandra: What's that?
    Prendergast: I love her.
  • Ax-Crazy: It's a close call, but ultimately subverted. 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 most of his victims are Acceptable Targets makes it much easier for him to become an accidental sociopath.
  • Badass Bookworm: Foster.
  • Badass Combat Fatigues: Foster gets one of those.
  • Badass Moustache: Prendergast
  • Bad Liar: The (supposedly) homeless guy who asks D-Fens for some money for food, and keeps digging himself deeper.
  • Bald of Awesome: Prendergast is bald, but he's a zealous if careful cop who saves several lives on his last day.
  • Bald of Evil: The Neo-Nazi has a skinhead look, but he's also a middle-aged man who seems to have gone bald naturally.
  • Ballistic Discount: Rendered against a Neo Nazi dealer in army surplus goods.
  • Batter Up: The first weapon Michael Douglas gets is a sawed-off baseball bat he took from a convenience store clerk. He later uses it on a group of hoodlums who tried to take his briefcase.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Foster's not really "evil", but due to his unstable temper, he loses his wife and daughter and is forced to become a lonely fugitive.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Insulting Prendergast's wife.
    • This is the premise of Foster's story, in a way. It just takes a while.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: 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 Comedy: Foster shooting an elderly golfer's golf cart and inducing a heart attack. The pills are in the golf cart, which rolls into a lake.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Foster wasn't truly a bad guy throughout most of the movie, but his unwillingness to deal with his serious anger issues and leave his wife in peace made him close to one. The other bad guys in the movie are clearly utter scum, from murderous gangsters to murderous neo-nazis... 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.
  • Blunt "Yes": Prendergast finally confronts the man who snapped and went on a rampage in an attempt to get home, trying to make him face up to what he's become.
    Bill: I'm the bad guy?
    Prendergast: Yeah.
  • Bond One-Liner: "I think it's out of order".
  • Brainless Beauty: Prendergast's wife was apparently one as a younger woman.
    Sergeant Prendergast: "It's hard to lose your beauty when that's all you've got."
  • Burger Fool: With the misfortune to host Foster for a disappointing lunch.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The water-gun.
  • 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, killing themselves and leaving a bag full of weapons for Foster to find. Somewhat Truth in Television as all too often, bystanders rather than the actual target get killed in street shootings, not to mention, they don't know how to aim.
  • Cool Old Guy: Prendergast.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Foster has some moments.
    Man at Phone Booth: Excuse me! I don't know if you noticed or not, but there are other people who want to use the phone here!
    Foster: There are?
    Man at Phone Booth: That's right, you selfish asshole!
    Foster: Oh, that's too bad. Because you know what? (he shoots at the phone booth) I think it's out of order.
  • Decoy Protagonist: It seems like the story's main character is Bill Foster and Prendergast is a Hero Antagonist, but as the movie progresses and Foster becomes increasingly unhinged they switch roles as well.
  • The Determinator: Foster, aka D-fens. He's the definition of this. (All he wants to do is get 20 miles across smog-infested LA in time for his daughter's birthday... on foot.)
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Foster's MO (though a milder case). And the things with the neo-nazi and the Mexican hoodlums don't quite fit the "Disproportionate" part, too.
    • The hoodlums tried to gun down D-Fens because he defended himself when one of them pulled a knife and tried to rob him.
  • 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.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: D-FENS (according to the credits).
  • Expy:
    • Who does Frank Grimes from The Simpsons remind you of?
    • Also a major inspiration for Simon Whittlebone from the Twisted Metal series.
    • Noah Bennet from Heroes is definitely a close relative (who didn't lose his job).
  • Everyone Has Standards: D-Fens has clearly gone off the deep end, but he is very disturbed by the Neo-Nazi and enraged when he claims to find him a kindred spirit.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The whole film takes place during a single day. Many countries even translated the title as "A Day of Fury".
  • Fake Food: Foster's burger doesn't look like the picture. This makes him angry.
  • First Father Wins: While there's no romantic rival, reuniting with his wife and daughter is William Foster's primary motivation. Foster doesn't just have "frustrating flaws" the way so many First Dads have; he's insane to the point that his own mother is terrified of him, and his ex will do anything to keep away from him. Since it's a drama, it doesn't end well: Foster ends up committing Suicide by Cop.
  • First Name Basis: D-FENS takes a moment to muse about him being on a first name basis with the Whammyburger staff when he doesn't even know them. Sheila the cashier tells him he can her call Miss Folsom if he'd like. Later in the scene when he decides to have lunch he refers to her as such.
  • Foreshadowing: The black protester who gets arrested is wearing the same shirt and tie as Foster. "Not economically viable" anyone?
  • Freudian Excuse: Foster pulls a milder one during the climax
    Foster: Do you know that I build missiles? I helped to protect America. You should be rewarded for that. But instead they give it to the plastic surgeons, you know they lied to me.
  • From Bad to Worse: How a really bad day can turn into a freaking nightmare.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Foster is a lighter example.
  • 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.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Prendergast is a patient soft-spoken man. To his Jerkass colleagues, this makes him a wimp and a joke. But watch as he cracks the case, treat witnesses with respect rather that frustrate them with inane questions, stands up to his frustrating wife, punches out a cop who insulted her, offers mercy to D-Fens, and shoots him when he refuses. It's clear who is the strongest man at the end of the day.
  • Happier Home Movie: The film ends on one.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Foster.
  • Heatwave: The movie takes place on the hottest day of the summer.
  • Heel Realization: Foster by the end: "I'm the bad guy? [Beat] How did that happen?" 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.
  • Henpecked Husband: Prendergast. This changes by the end.
  • Hero Antagonist: Detective Prendergast is the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist who starts the film playing second fiddle to the Villain Protagonist Bill Foster who goes on a rampage across the city to right the wrongs he sees in society. It eventually becomes clear that Prendergast is the real protagonist of the film.
  • If I Can't Have You: More like "If I can't visit my daughter" for Foster.
  • 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 hoodlum 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.
  • Ironic Name: D-FENS, who aside from his encounters with the Mexican hoodlums and the Neo-Nazi store owner, is the full blown aggressor throughout the film.
  • 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.
    • Foster as well, but with a heart of gold to some extent. He had a short temper when dealing with his wife and their daughter, and shortly before his rampage, got to the point where his mom not finishing her food at the dinner table was enough to invoke a rage-filled Death Glare. He also makes a couple rude remarks about the store owner's admittedly bad english, asking if they don't have 'V''s in China. But his issues are linked with anger instead of malice.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Every Jerkass that D-fens meets.
  • Kitsch Collection: Foster's mom's glass figurines. Also the neo-Nazi's... stuff.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Prendergast is of the first type.
  • Large Ham: "I'm going home! Clear a path you motherfucker, I'm going home!!!"
  • Last Name Basis: Prendergast. Sorta lampshaded when in the end Foster's daughter asks him what his name is.
  • Last-Second Chance: The ending has Det. Martin Prendergast asking William "D-Fens" Foster to surrender so that he can still watch his little girl grow up. Foster refuses, insisting instead on a final shoot-out with Prendergast. It turns out to be Suicide by Cop, since Foster only has a water pistol.
  • Madden Into Misanthropy: The main character is fired, divorced, and stuck in traffic. Already mentally unstable and prone to violent outbursts, he decides his mission is to spend the day with his daughter on her birthday, no matter what. Turns out, he was always like that...and was fired a WHILE back, only to keep commuting. And had a restraining order against him...
  • Manly Gay: Gay customers at the army surplus store. Also, we get hints that its neo-Nazi owner might be one, despite being a homophobe.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Korean is not the same as Japanese-American.
  • Monologuing: "And now you're gonna die, wearing that stupid little hat! How does it feel?"
  • Motif: "London Bridge is Falling Down"
  • Moral Myopia: A much lighter case, but still. D-Fens deals with a lot of various annoyances, but sees nothing wrong with his disproportionately (except in the case of the Neo-Nazi and hoodlums) violent reactions. An example is when he attacks the Korean store-owner. He is offended that the guy thinks he is a robber, and is willing to pay a (fair) price for his soda, but sees nothing wrong with smashing up the man's store, taking his bat, and making rude and ignorant remarks.(He thinks he's chinese and made fun of his english.) Prendergast sums it up quite nicely:
    Prendergast: So he stole your baseball bat, but he paid for your soda? Oh this guys discriminating.
  • More Dakka: The gym bag.
    Prendergast: How many guns were in the gym bag?
    Angie: I don't know. Lots of guns. They got all the guns in the fucking world.
  • Mugging the Monster: The hoodlums attempt 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.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Venice Beach.
  • 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 some 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.
  • Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: Prendergast is the older hero to Foster's younger villain.
  • Ominous Walk: D-FENS hangs up the phone, turns around, and oh so slowly walks over to the crashed car of a group of gangbangers who attempted to kill him in a drive-by, but failed.
    "You missed."
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted. A Gunshot to the leg and a knife to the shoulder are both treated as very serious, potentially fatal injuries.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: William Foster is most frequently referred to (and credited as) D-FENS, his license plate number.
  • Pater Familicide: A potential implication is made 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. It's ambiguous whether he planned to hurt them or not, but he almost certainly planned to take his own life.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Foster has one when he discovers that the people barbequing 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.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The neo-Nazi store owner, who erroneously thinks Foster shares his beliefs.
  • Precision F-Strike: Doubles as a Brick Joke.
    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;
    Sgt. Prendergast: Fuck you, Captain Yardley. Fuck you very much!
  • Pre-emptive Declaration: William "D-Fens" Foster:
    Innocent Bystander: If you haven't noticed, others are waiting to use the phone.
    Foster: Others want the phone?
    IB: Right, asshole!
    Foster: Jeez, that's too bad, because you know what?
    [shoots the phone down]
    Foster: I think it's out of order.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    Foster: Good! Good, freedom of religion. Now you get the swing of it. Feels good to exercise your rights, doesn't it? (opens fire).
  • Prison Rape: Invoked by the neo-Nazi nutcase when he fantasizes about a black inmate raping Foster in prison.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: An interesting version where not only does the protagonist Bill Foster aka D-FENS become "the bad guy", but the roles are also reversed with his Hero Antagonist Detective Prendergast, who initially seems like a forgettable side character. Foster starts the film by lashing out at the societal annoyances he sees around him, but his actions become increasingly bolder as he takes an entire restaurant hostage to complain about the bad food, blows up a construction site, and causes several deaths. By the time that Foster and Prendergast come face to face and Foster realizes that he's the bad guy in all this and the Decoy Protagonist, it comes as a shock to the audience who were identifying with Bill up until then.
  • Psycho Strings: Every now and then whenever Foster gets angry.
  • Quick Draw: Invoked by Foster during his duel with Prendergast, which turns out to be a Suicide by Cop.
  • 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Detective Prendergast puts Foster in his place during the final showdown.
    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.
  • Room Full of Crazy: The Neo-Nazi's private quarters.
  • Reckless Gun Usage:
    • Most notably in the breakfast scene and the rocket launcher scene. Then again, Foster certainly isn't an expert. It's pretty scary that a random kid on the street knows how to properly use a rocket launcher, though...
    • It was explained he learned from watching a lot of action movies.
    • 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.
  • Remonstrating With A Gun: A famous example with the Whammyburger scene. Subverted in that he is a maniac; Michael Douglas' character uses the opportunity to make a stand against the fifth or sixth trivial thing that has pissed him off that day..
  • Retirony: Played with. It's Prendergast's last day working as a cop, and he's actually going into early retirement because he's afraid of getting killed on the job. Much lampshaded and discussed by his collegues. Not only does Prendergast survive, but he decides not to retire after all.
  • Revenge: More or less the whole plot. Also counts as Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter
  • Sanity Slippage: D-Fens gets crazier every hour. 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, almost certainly getting life, 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.
    • Justified. Gang members rule by fear. Allowing someone to get away with threatening them is something they just can't afford.
  • The Slow Walk: D-Fens. Also the Ominous Walk, with background music, after the drive-by.
  • Ship Tease: Prendergast and Sandra obviously would be quite happy being more than police partners.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: In D-Fens' Suicide by Cop, he pulls a watergun, invoking this trope.
  • Showdown at High Noon: Invoked and lampshaded by D-Fens, who wants to go out in a blaze of glory.
    D-Fens: Wanna draw?
    Predergast: Let's not. C'mon, let's call it a day.
    D-Fens: Oh, come on. It's perfect. A showdown between the sheriff and the bad guy? It's beautiful. On three... ]]
  • Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness: Played straight. Oh, so played straight, to the point that comparisons to Grand Theft Auto have come up. An unstable but harmless middle class white guy gets out of his car. He steals an Asian shopkeeper's baseball bat. He uses the baseball bat to beat up a couple hoodlums, and pockets their Butterfly Knife. The gang tries to kill him in a drive-by, and he steals their duffel bag full of automatic weapons. He gets bum-rushed by a neo-nazi in an army surplus store, and takes a combat suit and a shoulder-fired rocket launcher.
  • Spiritual Successor:
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Detective Martin Prendergast is the Hero Antagonist. He opposes and tries to calm down the rampage of the Villain Protagonist.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Bill's evolution from a normal everyday man into a Travis Bickle-like Vigilante Man.
  • 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!"
  • Unconfessed Unemployment: As Bill Prendergast goes on his violent rampage throughout the city, the cops discover that "D-Fens" has actually lost his job as a missile engineer several months before as a result of budget cuts in the military. All that time he has nevertheless been going out every day fully dressed, but apparently doing nothing. Neither his ex-wife nor even his mother, whom he was living with at the time, knew this.
  • Unfortunate Name: Prendergast's last name, apart from being awkward to pronounce, doesn't fit on a cake!
  • Unstoppable Rage: Bill. Especially towards the two golf players.
  • Vanity License Plate: D-FENS.
  • Vigilante Man: Bill goes on a mission to right the wrongs he sees in society by breaking a lot of laws.
  • Villainous Breakdown: It's essentially one of these spread throughout a movie.
  • 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.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Foster's vigilantism made him into this.
  • White and Grey Morality: The movie has an increasingly violent man angry at the world, vs. a cop with his own issues and who can deal with them maturely. There are some real villains in the latino hoodlums and the Neo-Nazi store owner, but they're secondary characters and aren't part of the film's main conflict between Foster and Prendergast.
  • 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.
  • Worthy Opponent: Pendergast vs. D-fens.
  • Wretched Hive: Los Angeles. This film and the film Grand Canyon (and the 1992 riots) popularized the notion that LA was no moviestar paradise. Crash has similar themes.
  • Yandere: Foster towards Beth to some degree. At the end Prendergast speculates that he ultimately planned to kill his wife and child before doing himself in out of grief. Bill himself, however, adamantly denies this.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: How much worse can Foster's day get?
  • You Are What You Hate: The neo-Nazi freak hates homosexuals, but dresses as a Manly Gay and obviously goes through some major Foe Yay with Foster.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: D-Fens is very seriously pissed off when the neo-Nazi praises him for shooting people and even says "We're the same, you and me".