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Film / Falling Down

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"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 and his mother doesn't even know. William Foster wants to attend his daughter's birthday party. William Foster is stuck in traffic. William Foster's 1979 Chevy Chevette's air conditioner has just broken down, on the hottest day of the year.

William Foster is having a very bad day. William Foster wants to be reunited with his family and he's not going to stop for anyone in his path.

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".


This is a tale of urban reality and the adventures of an ordinary war...with the everyday world.

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 1995 Iron Maiden song "Man on the Edge" and the creation of the one-episode character Frank Grimes from The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy". Received a parodic Homage in the Foo Fighters' video for "Walk".

Notable for its not-so-coincidental backdrop of the LA riots and its themes of violent rebellion directed at the system, as well as calling to mind images of the rash of shootings in schools and other public places that were to follow, and for still being relevant (perhaps more so) in post 9-11 America. Depending on who you ask, this film is either righteous social commentary on the state of society and the collapse of the family unit and the decline of traditional, more conservative values, or an ironic parody of the Baby Boomer generation as they ascend into middle age and become curmudgeonly, empty suits. Both arguments have merit; William Foster is insane, violent and (except on the subject of his marriage) completely unrepentant, but he is something of a sympathetic villain, lashing out at a world that could fail him after years of (in his mind, anyway) faithful service to work, family and country.


Either way, it's a film that inspires quite a bit of discussion and debate, and one of Michael Douglas' signature roles.

This movie contains examples of:

  • The '90s: 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. It's even used in the trailer: "Life in the Nineties got you down?"
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Nick the Neo-Nazi to Bill Foster.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Foster himself in the end.
  • An Aesop: Going Postal is not a good way to deal with life.
  • Ambiguous Disorder:
    • Foster's emotional instability, intense anger, hostility, unstable relationship with his family and reckless behaviors all suggest he suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder.
    • Prendergast's wife is needy, self-centered, highstrung, and tempermental. It is possible she is suffering from some bipolar or codependency disorder.
  • Angry White Man: Foster is this, believing that the system he worked for screwed him over, and having a few prejudices about other people (as demonstrated by his treatment of the Korean store owner), but he ultimately becomes a Deconstructed Character Archetype.
  • Anti-Villain: William "D-FENS" Foster is a firm Type II and Type III. He's dangerously insane and becomes increasingly violent, but at the same time he's also clearly a victim of powers beyond his control, and the audience is encouraged to feel catharsis through his actions even as the movie condemns them.
  • Arc Words: Not economically viable.
  • 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. Of course, Foster himself doesn't know that.
  • 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 in his harsh broken English.
  • Asian Store-Owner: Whose place gets trashed after Bill tries to make change for the phone. Bill hurls some racist slurs at him saying that South Korea is freeloading off of American foreign aid.
  • Asshole Victim: All of Bill's victims have it coming to greater or lesser degrees. This keeps him somewhat sympathetic despite the growing realization that he's totally off his rocker.
    • The straight examples are the neo-Nazi store owner and the Latino hoodlums who are criminal psychos.
    • The Korean store owner is rude, callous and utterly uninterested in lifting a finger to help a guy in need, and overcharges for soda cans.
    • One of the golfers is an arrogant, elitist jerk who was more than willing to risk injuring someone by hitting them with a golf ball.
    • Even the Whammy Burger manager Rick is smarmy and passive-aggressive, presenting a big plastic smile without actually attempting any customer service until Foster forces him to do so at gunpoint.
    • During the traffic jam from the construction scene, a man in a car is yelling and cussing at an elderly female driver ahead of him. Foster walks right up to him and delivers a swift punch to the face that knocks him out.
    • Also during the construction scene, the construction worker who Bill confronts is incredibly obnoxious and sarcastic, and he suddenly drops his attitude when he finds out Bill has a gun.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Prendergast quips that his roast chicken at home is drying out in the oven on top of everything else Foster caused just because he "got angry".
  • A-Team Firing: Gang members attempt to get revenge on Bill Foster during a drive by shooting, but end up wounding everyone else on the block except him, before crashing into a telephone pole and dying themselves.
    Foster: Get some shooting lessons, asshole.
  • Aw, 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 Longcoat: Combat fatigues, actually, stolen from the neo-Nazi store owner, but they reach far enough past his waist to give basically the same effect.
  • Badass Moustache: Prendergast's.
  • Bad Liar: The (supposedly) homeless guy who asks Foster for some money for food, and keeps digging himself deeper.
  • Bag of Holding: The gym bag Foster takes from the gangbangers is filled with so many guns that Foster never needs to use the same one twice.
  • 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. Foster did not actually intend to rob him when he first walked in, but after he murders the guy during a scuffle he figures he might as well take the guy's rocket launcher, he's probably going to prison anyway.
  • 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 what could happen if a hard-working, white collar family man snaps. Although granted, Foster was apparently shown to have anger management issues in the first place.
  • Big "NO!": Foster does this when the Neo-Nazi surplus owner destroys the snowglobe that he bought for his daughter.
  • 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.
    Foster: Now you're gonna die wearing that stupid little hat!
  • 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 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.
    Foster: I'm the bad guy?
    Prendergast: Yeah.
  • Bond One-Liner: "I think it's out of order".
  • Boring Yet Practical: The Neo-Nazi surplus store owner talks about two kinds of combat boots to Foster; The first are top of the line, expensive boots with glowing recommendations from the Sierra Club, but that he quite loudly notes so a gay couple browsing can hear "are for pussies and faggots". The other is a pair of Vietnam jungle boots that he notes cost half as much, will last twice as long and, again in his words, are "great for stomping queers". In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment during the rocket launcher scene, you can see that Foster is actually seen wearing the expensive boots, probably out of spite and with no actual monetary cost to himself.
  • Brainless Beauty: Prendergast's wife was apparently one as a younger woman.
    Prendergast: It's hard to lose your beauty when that's all you've got.
  • Broken Pedestal: The Neo-Nazi was highly enamored of Foster when he thought his actions were a vigilante spree directed solely at homosexuals and racial minorities, to the extent that he hides him from the police and kits him out with a combat suit and a rocket launcher gratis so he can continue his rampage in the same fashion. When Foster points out that he couldn't be more wrong he turns extremely vicious.
  • Burger Fool: With the misfortune to host Foster for a disappointing lunch.
  • Butt-Monkey: Deconstructed, Everything goes wrong for Foster throughout the movie, and even before that his life was on a downward spiral. This leads to his Sanity Slippage and him going off the deep end.
  • Cassandra Truth: Both Angie and Jim the golfer try to stop their friends from messing with Bill when he crosses their paths, but are ignored.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Or Chekov's water-gun, anyway. Also, Chekhov's baseball bat, Chekhov's butterfly knife, Chekhov's rocket-launcher and Chekhov's snowglobe, if you can believe it.
    • Also the Hawaiian Tropic billboard and D-FENS' abandoned car. Both of them help Prendergast identify Foster as the unnamed vigilante he's looking for.
    • Subverted with some of the guns in the gym bag. Foster uses an Uzi to shoot the gangbanger in the leg, a TEC-9 at Whammy burger, a MAC-10 to shoot up the phone, a shotgun at the golf course, and a 1911 towards the end of the film, but there are a large variety of guns in the bag, and even if you assume the last two guns were taken from Nick the Neo Nazi, many of them don't get used.
    • Prendergast's service revolver could be considered Chekhov's lack of gun. He's seen turning it in, as he's on his last day, and consequently finds himself unarmed at an inconvenient moment at the film's climax, forcing him to borrow a wounded Sandra's weapon to face Foster.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Detective Prendergast just happens to be a few cars behind Foster on the freeway when he decides to abandon his car and walk home. This helps him identify Foster as a suspect later in the film.
    • 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.
    • Foster decides to buy some shoes as his current ones are falling apart. The first shop that sells shoes he happens to walk into is a military surplus shop run by a neo-Nazi who just so happens to have heard about Foster's exploits on the radio and just so happens to have come to the erroneous conclusion that Foster shares his prejudices, to the point that he is willing to protect Foster from the police and show Foster his collection of exotic weapons.
  • Cool Old Guy: Prendergast. Of course he is played by Robert Duvall.
  • 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 (the only firearm he uses wearing the shirt is the submachine gun).
  • 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.
  • Creator Cameo: The guy on the freeway is writer Ebbe Roe Smith.
  • Creepy Souvenir: The prized possession of the Neo-Nazi is a used can of Zyklon-B. He fantasizes about about how many Jews were gassed with it.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Foster and Prendergast have their moments.
    • Prendergast:
      Prendergast: So he took your baseball bat but paid for the soda... This guy's discriminating!

      Prendergast: Let me guess — Venice[CA]... Where else would an Italian move to?
    • Foster:
      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?
      Man at Phone Booth: What?
      (Foster promptly pulls out his gun and destroys the phone booth by shooting it a lot)
      Foster: I think it's out of order.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: A rare inversion of the usual mechanic; the first two acts basically build up Foster into a badass vigilante, even giving him the nickname of D-Fens, for the audience to root for and the final third deconstructs this premise entirely and show that Prendergast is the real hero.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Foster is a deconstruction of Angry White Man characters. He believes that the world around him is oppressing him and is to blame for the problems he has in his personal life, and thus sees his violent backlash against the world around him to be righteous, yet he fails to see until at the very end of the movie that it's in fact that very same violent behavior that has led to many of his worst personal tragedies from him getting fired from his job to the domestic abuse he committed towards his wife that destroyed his marriage.
  • 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.)
  • Disappointed by the Motive: After a whole film following Foster's rampage throughout L.A., Pendergast finally learns what's wrong with Foster. He's just an unemployed Angry White Man that lost his job because of his temper, and right now he's only trying to go to his daughter's birthday, though it's implied that he was going to do much worse (Foster's wife even tells the cops that he needed professional help). Most of the other victims are the result of Foster getting pissed at people for the pettiest reasons. In the final act the Sergeant gives Foster a "The Reason You Suck" Speech that goes like this:
    Bill: I'm the bad guy? How did that happen? I did everything they told me to. Did you know I build missiles? I help to protect America. You should be rewarded for that. Instead, they give it to the plastic surgeon. They lied to me.
    Sergeant Pendergast: 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.
  • 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 themselves tried to kill Foster because he dared stand up to them. The most notable example of this is when he takes a fast food place hostage just because he wanted breakfast, which they stopped serving just a few minutes before he walked in.
  • Domestic Abuse: Foster 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 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.
  • Driven to Suicide: By the end of the day, Foster, having finally passed the point of no return and seen the irrevocable effects on his life that his actions in the film and events prior have culminated in, finally says screw it and invokes Suicide by Cop.
  • 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).
  • Everyone Has Standards: Foster has clearly gone off the deep end, but he is very disturbed by the Neo-Nazi and becomes enraged when he claims to find him a kindred spirit. He is also offended when he realizes that the groundskeeper assumed Foster would hurt his family.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The Neo-Nazi store owner assumes that Foster is a Politically Incorrect Villain after hearing about his antics at Whammyburger, but what he doesn't get that Foster isn't a vicious racist, but just a man who's Going Postal.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Foster isn't a good guy by any means, but he doesn't actually kill anyone directly until his visit to the Neo Nazi's army surplus store. After killing Nick, he changes from his white shirt into a set of combat fatigues, which are darker in colour, signifying his transition from an almost sympathetic character to someone irredeemable. The first scene he's depicted wearing this outfit is even his "point of no return" speech to Beth, further hammering the trope home.
  • Eviler Than Thou: The Neo-Nazi store owner is this when compared to Foster. While Foster is not "evil" per se, he is quite unhinged. The Neo-Nazi, on the other hand, is a pretty sick bastard (to put it gently). Foster himself even lampshades this:
    Neo-Nazi Store Owner: We're the same, you and me. We're the same, don't you see?
    Foster: We are not the same. I am an American and you're a sick asshole.
  • 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: Foster 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 call her Miss Folsom if he'd like. Later in the scene, when he decides to have lunch after all, 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?
    • At the beginning of the film, Foster’s way of trying to deal with the fly in his car subtly shows off his anger issues.
    • When Foster uses his newspaper to cover the hole in his shoe, the audience can clearly see that he's circled several job adverts, foreshadowing the later revelation that he's lost his job.
  • Foil: Foster to Pendergrast. Both are or have been servants (Foster was in the military and Pendergrast is a detective) who receive little to no overt appreciation for their service, least of all from the people close to them. However, while Foster let his anger get the best of him, cutting him off from his (ex-)wife and child, and and drag him deeper and deeper into an abyss of rage, Pendergrast focused on the greater good he provided, eventually stood up to those who belittled him, earning their respect, and ultimately reaffirmed his love for his wife.
  • 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.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: The movie repeatedly shows that Foster has harmed innocent people with his bad temper and violent rampage, and that his misfortunes do not justify his behavior. During the climax, Prendergast tells him outright that being lied to does not excuse his rampage.
  • From Bad to Worse: How a really bad day can turn into a freaking nightmare.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: The somewhat unassuming citizen Bill Foster reaches his Rage Breaking Point and becomes a feared vigilante known by the moniker "D-Fens" at the span of a day.
  • Gangbangers: Foster accidentally ends up on the territory of some Hispanic gangsters, who subsequently try to mug him. After he fights them off, they try killing him in a drive by, which fails spectacularly when they crash their car and fail to hit him.
  • Gangland Drive-By: Foster gets into a scuffle with Hispanic gangsters when they try to rob him. They come back for revenge by performing a drive-by shooting on him. Unfortunately for them, they're such poor shots that they injure several other people but miss him completely before crashing the car.
  • Genre Deconstruction: To the vigilante movie. Foster is presented as a Villain Protagonist who has more in common with a spree killer than anything, his grievances with society in no way justifying his actions.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Foster, after leaving his car.
  • 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 about a month 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. Prendergast who faces much the same frustrations Foster does, but handles them with reasonably civilized maturity and empathy. Furthermore, when the two characters meet at the climax at the film, Prendergast 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, treats witnesses with respect rather than frustrate them with inane questions, stands up to his frustrating wife, punches out a cop who insulted her, offers mercy to Foster, and only 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. His wife divorced him because of it.
  • Heat Wave: The movie takes place on the hottest day of the summer.
  • Heel Realization: Of the slow-burning variety. It begins when Foster 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. It takes from that point to the end of the movie to fully sink in; "I'm the bad guy? [beat] How did that happen?" Pendergast's "The Reason You Suck" Speech is the coup de grâce which makes Foster realize just how far he's fallen.
  • 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.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Foster pulls out a gun at the burger joint because he doesn't want lunch, dammit - he wants breakfast! When he catches an old dude trying to sneak out, though, he seems to worry, and says "stay and finish your lunch!", and amusingly caves in totally, asking the terrorised staff for lunch after all.
  • 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.
    • Moments later, Foster picks up a gun, takes aim at one of the injured gang members, and misses from point blank range. He succeeds at the second attempt.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Prendergast asks an Asian-American detective to translate what a Korean store owner is saying. The detective points out that he's actually Japanese. Ironically, the actor who plays the Korean man (Michael Paul Chan) is Chinese, and the actor who plays the Japanese cop (Steve Park) is actually Korean.
  • Ironic Name: Foster's moniker "D-Fens", as aside from his encounters with the Mexican hoodlums and the Neo-Nazi store owner, he's a 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While the restaurant manager acts like an ass, his behavior is understandable. Fast food restaurants that served breakfast at that time used the same equipment to serve breakfast and lunch. One would have to clean the stove-tops, fryers, and toasters, then reset their cooking timers and temperatures, which would take several minutes. So it was more than proper to refuse Foster's request, rather than take twenty minutes to serve a single customer just as the lunch rush was starting. And anyone who has worked in a restaurant can tell you that when a customer says, "The customer is always right," it is usually their attempt to justify an unreasonable demand, which explains why the manager gave a sarcastic non-apology. However, when the manager actually acquieses to Foster's demands, Sheila simply picks up a box that's being kept warm, implying that they still had some breakfasts ready to serve anyway.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Every Jerkass that Foster meets.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: After the gangbangers crash their car performing a drive by shooting, Foster shoots one of the injured gangbangers in the leg.
  • 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 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...
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Nick the Neo Nazi's reaction to being stabbed with a butterfly knife is to stare in shock and exclaim that the knife isn't one of his.
  • Manly Gay: The gay customers at the army surplus store. Also, we get hints that its neo-Nazi owner might be one, despite being a homophobe.
  • Mistaken for Racist: The Neo-Nazi incorrectly assumes Foster shares his abhorrent views on race. When Foster sets him straight, he's not happy.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Foster at first believes the Korean-American shopkeeper is from China. Later, Prendergast has to be told that by his Japanese-American colleague that he can't translate what the shopkeeper is saying, as he isn't Korean.
  • 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. Foster 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 guy's 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.
  • Nazisploitation: During the army surplus scene Foster glances over some of the items the neo-Nazis owner possesses. Several books are clearly nazi pornography.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: Bill has no qualms about using violence (or the threat of violence) against people who piss him off, but he's horrified at the idea that the groundskeeper at the plastic surgeon's house believes he would hurt his wife and children.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Played up as a tale of modern revenge, a kind of Death Wish 1974 for the nineties. Robert Duvall's character isn't given any attention.
  • 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: Partly Averted. Prendergast is subjected to some of the same pressures (including a troubled private life) and depersonalization and signs of social decay as Foster, but handles it with more grace and patience, ultimately finding a socially acceptable way to express his frustrations. However, the neo-Nazi invokes this to Foster ("We're the same, you and me"), predictably pissing him off.
  • Not So Similar: Many characters in the movie can be seen as twisted foils to Foster. Compare Foster's own patriotism and ignorance (has the view that America is a Godsend to the entire world, insisting his country gave Korea a ton of money, for some unexplained reason) and how his acts of violence, up until meeting the Nazi, have only been directly harmful to a gang-banger who tried to kill him, to the Neo-Nazi, who of course, is an outright bigot who was prepared to shoot two innocent people dead for getting pissed off at his slurs, and the gangsters themselves who tried to mug him at knife-point for being in their territory when he was already on his way out, and then tried to kill him anyway. And of course, there's Prendergast, noted above under Not So Different.
  • Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: Prendergast is the older hero to Foster's younger villain.
  • Ominous Walk: Foster 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 Known by Their Nickname: William Foster is most frequently referred to (even credited as) D-Fens, his license plate number.
  • Passed in Their Sleep: Prendergast's daughter died a number of years ago in her sleep. Supposedly the cause of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), even though Prendergast notes she was two years old.
  • 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.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: What Foster believes he's doing. Though the only ones who actually fit "evil" are the hoodlum and the neo-Nazi.
  • Papa Wolf: the cartaker Foster meets offers himself up as a hostage to guarantee his family's safety.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Foster has one when he discovers that the people barbecuing 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.
    • After accidentially shooting a firearm Foster pushes a nearby kid out of the way. For all his flaws he doesn't want to see a child hurt.
  • Phony Veteran: The homeless guy tries to pass himself off as a Vietnam vet. Foster wisely points out that he's barely older than 30 and would've been a kid at the time of the war. The homeless guy insists that he meant to say that he served in the Gulf war.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Prendergast and Torres are quite close, often meeting for lunch. Prendergast's wife goes mental when she answers his phone.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain:
    • The neo-Nazi store owner, who erroneously thinks Foster shares his beliefs.
    • If you interpret Foster as a Villain Protagonist, he certainly meets this description, given his casual racism to the Korean shopkeeper early in the film.
  • Precision F-Strike: Doubles as a Brick Joke.
    Captain Yardley: (to Prendergast) 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)
    Prendergast: Fuck you, Captain Yardley. Fuck you very much!
  • Pre-emptive Declaration: When Foster uses the phonebooth:
    Innocent Bystander: If you haven't noticed, others are waiting to use the phone.
    Foster: Others want the phone?
    IB: That's right, you selfish 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.
  • Punched Across the Room: Prendergast delivers a richly deserved right-hook to Lydecker, sending him flying and laying him out cold in his own retirement cake in the process. And ruining his nice suit.
  • 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.
  • Rant-Inducing Slight: Many of these happen to Foster.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Detective Prendergast puts Foster in his place during the final showdown.
    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.
  • Reckless Gun Usage:
    • Most notably in the breakfast scene, where Foster's initial attempts to calm down the other patrons at the Whammyburger are bungled by accidentally shredding part of the ceiling because his finger was on the trigger, and the rocket launcher scene, where it's less than a second between the kid telling him where the trigger is on the launcher and him accidentally firing while he's off-target, again because he had his finger on said trigger. 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.note 
    • 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 colleagues. 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
  • Riddle for the Ages: Where was Foster going every day after he lost his job?
  • Room Full of Crazy: The Neo-Nazi's private quarters.
  • Sanity Slippage: Foster gets crazier every hour. Should be noted that once he 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 Foster 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: Foster gets violently angry over very slight things, such as the fact that his hamburger looks less appetizing than advertised.
  • The Slow Walk: Foster. 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 Foster's Suicide by Cop, he pulls a watergun, invoking this trope.
  • Showdown at High Noon: Invoked and lampshaded by Foster, who wants to go out in a blaze of glory.
    Foster: Wanna draw?
    Predergast: Let's not. C'mon, let's call it a day.
    Foster: 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.
    • Inverted after the rocket launcher gets used. Foster switches to a shotgun once he's used up the rocket, moves down to a 1911 pistol when he arrives at the house in Venice Beach, and finally to a water pistol after Beth tosses the 1911 over the pier.
  • Spiritual Successor:
  • Spree Killer: Foster technically isn't one due to his low body count, but he's otherwise framed as a common spree killer archetype, a man who starts shooting up civilians after snapping in frustration with his life.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: "You think I'm a thief? No. I'm not a thief. I'm not the one charging 85 cents for a STINKING SODA! You're the thief!"
  • Suicide by Cop: After his Heel Realization, Foster draws a water pistol on Prendergast so that the cop will shoot him.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: After interviewing Angie, the best description Prendergast can come up with for the mysterious D-FENS is that he's a middle-aged white man wearing a shirt and tie, carrying a gym bag. Captain Yardley finds this...less than helpful:
    Captain Yardley: [Holds up his own gym bag] Prendergast, what do you think this is?
    Prendergast: A gym bag.
    Captain Yardley: Does this mean you're placing me under arrest?
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Detective Martin Prendergast is the Hero Antagonist. He opposes and tries to calm down the rampage of the Villain Protagonist.
  • Talk to the Fist: Both Foster and Prendergast get one each:
    • Foster punches a guy out who's stuck in traffic midway through his rant at a woman who has cut him off.
    • Prendergast punches out his Jerkass colleague for insulting his wife.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Nick has a private room full of Nazi memorabilia in his shop, including a 'used' can of Zyklon-B nerve gas, which he gleefully shows off to Bill.
  • 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 Foster goes on his violent rampage throughout the city, the cops discover that "D-Fens" has actually lost his job as a missile engineer a month 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.
  • Uncertain Doom: The golfer who tried to hit Foster suffers a heart attack after being startled by Foster shooting his golf cart is left to die by Foster. The last we see of him he's on the ground and close to death, but still alive, so it's unknown whether if he died or was revived. It's possible that the former happened to him.
  • Undignified Death: Foster invokes this to the rude golfer he startled into having a heart attack.
    Foster: "Now you're going to die with that stupid hat on."
  • Unfortunate Name: Prendergast's last name, apart from being awkward to pronounce, doesn't fit on a cake!
  • Unstoppable Rage: Foster. Especially towards the two golf players.
  • Vanity License Plate: Foster's license plate is labeled D-FENS.
  • Vigilante Man: Foster goes on a mission to right the wrongs he sees in society by breaking a lot of laws. Foster himself denies that he's a vigilante, however, insisting that he's just trying to get to his daughter's birthday party and that everyone's getting in the way of that.
  • Villain Protagonist: Foster.
  • 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". The final nail in the coffin is Pendergast's "The Reason You Suck" Speech which cements his status and leads him to commit Suicide by Cop
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Happens when Foster waves a gun in the face of a woman eating at the fast food joint and he asks if she's enjoying her meal.
    Foster: 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: Prendergast is a genuinely good cop, aligned against a sympathetic, deeply troubled yet violent man who can't deal with his problems maturely. While there are other truly bad people in the film, the primary conflict between Prendergast and Foster falls squarely under this.
  • 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. Or Why D-Fens Is Bummed Communism Fell. 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.
  • Working-Class Hero: Depending on how you view him, Foster is either a very dark Anti-Hero version of this, or a straight deconstruction.
  • World of Jerkass: Prendergast, Sandra, Beth, and Adele aside, most of the characters in this film are deeply unpleasant people. Bill Foster was an abusive husband to Beth who scared her so much that she slapped a restraining order on him. The people he encounters on his journey across the city range include Gangbangers, a Neo Nazi, a Phony Veteran looking to mooch off him and a golfer who intentionally attempts to hit him with a golf ball. Even some of Prendergast's colleagues at the LAPD are pricks, especially his captain and Sandra's partner.
  • Worthy Opponent: Prendergast vs. Foster.
  • 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 sexual tension with Foster.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Foster is very seriously pissed off when the neo-Nazi praises him for shooting people and even says "We're the same, you and me".


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