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."
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.
William Foster (Michael Douglas) is divorced, and living with his widowed mother. William Foster is under court order to stay away from his ex-wife, and small daughter. William Foster lost his defense contractor job about a month ago and 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'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, Sgt. 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 man...at war...with the everyday world, set against a backdrop of the LA riots and focusing on themes of violent rebellion against the system.
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".
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.
- Abusive Offspring: Foster was cruel to his mom, even blaming her for his failed marriage.
- Actor Allusion: Foster, seeing a plastic surgeon's luxurious home, remarks that he chose the wrong career, echoing a similar lament by Michael Douglas's character, Jack Colton, in Romancing the Stone.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Prendergast's boss Captain Yardley dislikes him because he took a desk job and because he doesn't curse. Towards the end, Prendergast tells the Captain to go fuck himself on national television. After getting over his initial shock, the Captain cracks a smile since the man he believed to be craven had the balls to do that.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Foster himself in the end. He just realized that he really is the villain in all of this, decides he's too far gone to be redeemed, and commits Suicide by Cop so his wife and daughter will have at least something to benefit from his death.
- All for Nothing: Foster pulls out a gun at Whammy Burger because the manager refused to serve him breakfast… only to later decide that he doesn’t want breakfast anymore and orders from the lunch menu.
- However, it's implied that Foster only drew a gun because the manager was very rude to him.
- All Part of the Show: When Foster first pulls out the bazooka, a group of bystanders mistake it for a movie shoot.
- An Aesop:
- Going Postal is not a good way to deal with life.
- Don’t be rude to people. Pretty much every single one of Foster’s outbursts in the movie is a result of people being rude (or threatening) to him.
- Angry White Man: Foster is this of a sort, believing that the system he worked for screwed him over and having grievances with anyone who doesn't have basic respect for American culture, economy, language, or even just simple human decency, but he ultimately becomes a Deconstructed Character Archetype.
- Anti-Villain: William "D-FENS" Foster is 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: Possibly Nick the Nazi, who graphically fantasizes about Foster getting Prison Raped by a black man.
- Armor-Piercing Response: The Korean shopkeeper's No-Sell response after Foster assumes that America sends Korea money and tries to use it against him.Foster: Do you have any idea how much money my country has given your country?Mr. Lee: How much?Foster: [Beat] I don't know. It's a lot. You can bet on that.
- 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".
- Artistic License – Law: In real life, Foster's crimes and his Suicide by Cop would leave his family with nothing, because insurance companies don't 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 (even though his register is already open), and when his high prices won't leave Bill any change to make a phone call, the guy tells him to get lost in harsh broken English.
- 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 out the wazoo.
- One of the golfers is an arrogant, elitist jerk who was more than willing to risk purposely injuring someone by hitting them with a golf ball just for passing through the golf course he's playing on.
- 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. Several people can actually be heard cheering him on.
- 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.
- The Jerkass sergeant Prendergast punches out for insulting his wife. It's particularly satisfying since he acts like such an insufferable douchebag the entire film through.
- Bill himself to a degree, being emotionally abusive toward his wife and child, as well as his mother, though he's portrayed in a more sympathetic and relatable way.
- A-Team Firing: Gang members attempt to get revenge on Bill Foster with a drive-by shooting, but end up wounding everyone else on the block except him, before crashing into a telephone pole and being either killed or severely injured themselves.Foster: Get some shooting lessons, asshole.
- Awful Wedded Life:
- Elizabeth was emotionally abused by her husband Foster, who has a Hair-Trigger Temper, which motivated her to divorce and file a restraining order against him to protect their young daughter. When her daughter's birthday comes, her husband is gunning for both of them, restraining order be damned. He eventually does succeed in meeting them both, and it turns out he had a gun on him. Prendergast even theorizes Foster intended to kill his family and then himself, which he denies.
- Prendergast's marriage is also hardly a happy one. His wife is needy, clingy and apparently mentally ill. Among other things, she basically ruined her husband's career and self-respect by forcing him to take a desk job and later into early retirement. Losing a daughter to SIDS at age two might have contributed to it. It's not until he takes on Foster's case that he stands up to her. It's later subverted as Prendergast still loves his wife deep down and defends her from anyone who thinks badly of her, such as the Jerkass police sergeant who gets punched in the face for it.
- 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 Asshole Victims makes it much easier for him to become an accidental sociopath.
- Badass Bookworm: Foster. You don't become a defense contractor by being dumb.
- Badass Longcoat: Combat fatigues, actually, stolen from the neo-Nazi store owner, but the jacket reaches far enough past his waist to give a similar effect.
- 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 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 and a set of combat fatigues and army boots since he's probably going to prison anyway.
- Bare Midriffs Are Feminine: The Camp Gay man that is homophobically abused into at the store is wearing a crop top.
- Basement-Dweller: It is revealed that Foster lives with his mother. Justified as Foster is divorced and lost his job.
- Batter Up!: The first weapon Michael Douglas gets is a sawed-off baseball bat he takes from a convenience store clerk. He later uses it on a group of hoodlums who try 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. For all her issues, he still loves her enough to defend her from anyone who speaks badly of her.
- 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 is shown to have already had 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.
- A Birthday, Not a Break: This applies to Foster's daughter Adele, as it is her birthday that he's trying to get to. It's also why Foster bought the snowglobe and gets hugely pissed when the Neo-Nazi surplus owner smashes it. Eventually, the climax of the film is a tense standoff with Foster, Prendergast, and Foster's estranged family. And finally, Beth (Foster's ex-wife) remembers Adele's birthday after the standoff and Foster's suicide-by-cop when a group of children show up with presents. Prendergast tells Beth to wait until after the birthday party to tell Adele about her father's fate.
- Black Comedy: Several instances, perhaps most notably 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: Aren't you sorry you didn't let me pass through your golf course? Now you're gonna die wearing that stupid little hat! How does it feel?
- Black-and-Gray Morality: Foster isn'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 makes him close to one. The other genuine 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.
- Blatant Lies:
- The aggressive panhandler who tries to get Foster to give him some money just keeps on telling these, first claiming to have been stranded because he drove down to LA from Santa Barbara to visit a friend who owed him money but never showed up forcing him to sleep in his car, but when Foster asks to see his driver's license, car registration, or car he can produce none of the above. He then claims to be a Vietnam vet, and when Foster points out he's too young switches to claiming to be a Gulf War vet, before finally claiming he hasn't eaten in days...while holding a sandwich he'd been eating throughout this entire interaction.
- In the beginning of the movie after Foster abandons his car, Prendergast walks up to a cop and the motorist directly behind Foster's car having an argument about the issue and says that they should at least put the car in neutral and push it off the road to keep a lane of traffic open. The cop not only brushes off Prendergast's suggestion but also tells him to get back in his car as there's lots of "Glass and steel rushing by at high speeds" despite the fact that there is currently a massive traffic jam right behind him.
- 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?
- 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 is a pair of top of the line, expensive boots with glowing recommendations from the Sierra Club but, which 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.
- Bratty Food Demand: Foster pulls out a gun at a burger joint when the manager refuses to serve him breakfast.
- Brick Joke: The police captain Yardley gives Prendergast a verbal beating and says he's never liked him because he's never heard him curse. This sets up the moment at the very end of the film when the captain tries to honor Prendergast on news television and Prendergast curses for the first and only time in the film.Prendergast: Fuck you, Captain Yardley. Fuck you very much.
- 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.
- Done on a narrative level with the audience regarding Foster himself. The film has the audience believe that Foster is the hero and that his anger towards the world for treating him as expendable is justified... until the end, where Prendergast confronts Foster and reveals he was the villain all along. No matter how asshole-ish people were, no matter what they did to him, Foster still had no right to violently vent his frustrations on everyone, which is what he was actually doing the entire time. This is marked as the moment Foster realizes what he's become, and the moment the audience's admiration for him is broken as they, too, are forced to see that they were essentially supporting a criminal. Fittingly, the movie poster above depicts Foster standing on a pedestal not unlike a hero's statue, which echoes the audience's initial impression of him.
- 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.
- Prendergast himself carries this throughout the film, being the only person on the police force to be paying enough attention to the day's events to piece together the links between reported crimes. Everyone around him but his partner Sandra thinks he's off his rocker.
- 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's 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.
- Children Are Innocent: A child sees Foster having trouble with the bazooka. He assumes that Foster is an actor shooting a movie and coaches him about how to fire it on the spot.
- Contrived Coincidence:
- Sergeant 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 that 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 to some extent, 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's presence in the real world, in a lot of ways - e.g. inner cities blighted with poverty and gang activity, racial animosities, decrepit infrastructure, and pollution.
- Creator Cameo: Writer Ebbe Roe Smith has a bit role as a man on the freeway.
- Creepy Souvenir: The prized possession of the Neo-Nazi is a used can of Zyklon-B. He fantasizes 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... *scoff* 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 an automatic firearm and destroys the phone booth by shooting the hell out of it.)
Foster: I think it's out of order.
- Death of a Child: Prendergast's daughter died from SIDS, contributing to his troubled marriage with his wife. What makes it worse is that his daughter was two years old when she died, making her older than typical SIDS victims.
- 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 then the final third deconstructs this premise entirely and shows 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, primarily the domestic abuse he committed towards his wife and child that destroyed his marriage.
- Prendergast is a deconstruction of the Hero Antagonist. As a member of the L.A. Police Department, he is the antagonist of the film, and in most vigilante films, the fact that he's part of the system is supposed to make the audience side with Foster, an average joe who lost his job for trivial reasons and desperately wants to reunite with his family. The killings he participates in are also portrayed as heroic. However, Prendergast is gradually revealed to be similar to Foster, beaten down by Jerkass people, a mentally unstable spouse, and life in general, giving him a similar cynical outlook. His conflict with Foster is the moment when the film gets turned on its head. It's the lawful Prendergast who ultimately wins, sympathizing with Foster's troubles yet calling the latter out for being a petty, angry man who uses a bullshit excuse to justify his horrible actions. Foster reaches a Heel Realization over what a horrible person he's become and commits Suicide by Cop.
- 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.
- 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...and he will mow through anyone who tries to stop him.
- Desk Jockey: Detective Prendergast is called this by his colleagues because he asked to be taken off the streets and given a desk job. What he never told them was that he didn't leave the streets out of cowardice, but to calm down his wife's hysterical fear that he would be killed on duty.
- Disappointed by the Motive: After a whole film following Foster's rampage throughout L.A., Prendergast finally learns what's wrong with Foster. He's just an unemployed Angry White Man who unfairly lost his job for stupid economic reasons, and right now he's only trying to go to his daughter's birthday, though it may be 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?
Sergeant Prendergast: Yeah.
Bill: 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 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.
- Disproportionate Retribution:
- Foster's MO (albeit a milder case). The things with the Neo-Nazi and the Mexican hoodlums don't quite fit the "Disproportionate" part, though. The hoodlums themselves try to kill Foster because he dares to stand up to them. The most notable example of this is when he takes a fast food place hostage just because he wants breakfast, which they stopped serving just a minute or two before he walked in. The real kicker is when he changes his mind and gets lunch anyway!
- The old golfer throws a fit, yells at his companion, and nearly hits Foster with a golf ball just because he couldn't stand to have his golf game interrupted for a few minutes.
- 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.
- The Dreaded: Due to his explosive temper, Foster is this to both his wife and mother who are both constantly on edge around him and frightened of invoking his wrath. It's so bad his mother admits she is too frightened to eat with him for fear of pissing him off.
- 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 candid point-of-view panning shots are used in the fast-food holdup scene. These pinpoint the moment where Foster realizes it is unreasonable to take an eatery full of people hostage just because they happened to stop serving breakfast a couple minutes before he walked in.
- Eagleland: Foster is an Angry White Man formerly employed at an American arms company that makes missiles for the government, believes in American Exceptionalism and sees The '60s as The Good Old Days. He tells an immigrant with a thick accent that he should learn English and assumes that America gives his country money. He also takes offense to a Neo-Nazi idolizing him and gives him a lecture on civil rights, calling himself "an American" and drawing a line between the two.
- 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.
- Epic Fail: Not only do the gangsters fail to shoot Foster during a drive-by but they also end up crashing their car almost immediately after that which results in their death.
- Even Evil Can Be Loved:
- When the gangbangers' car crashes and they are injured and/or killed, their friend Angie (who is implied to be the girlfriend of one of them) races up to the scene, crying.
- Zigzagged with Foster. His wife and mother both seem to love him but are also frightened of his explosive temper, and it's clear that his anger has taken a serious toll on his relationships with each of them.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Foster's nickname, D-FENS, taken from his Vanity License Plate, is a strange example. Nobody in the film calls him this but the closing credits do.
- 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 and when the grocery store clerk thinks he's a thief.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The Neo-Nazi store owner assumes that Foster is a Politically Incorrect Villain after hearing about his antics at Whammy Burger, but he doesn't get that Foster isn't a bigot, 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 rather 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.
- Evil Virtues: Nick doesn't sell Foster out when he thinks Bill's a fellow nazi.
- 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, and that's putting 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.
- Extreme Doormat: Prendergast is henpecked at home by a needy and probably mentally ill wife who forced him to take a degrading desk job with the police department. He's also treated with ridicule and open contempt by the police chief and fellow police officers because they think he's a coward for working behind a desk. He tolerates all of the above stoically until the Foster case lands in his lap.
- 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 even remotely like its marketing picture. This makes him angry.
- Fatal Flaw: Foster's is his explosive temper. It's the cause of much of his behavior and the reason why his wife left him before the film's events take place.
- Fate Worse than Death: In Foster's mind being sent to prison is this as he refuses to surrender when he is cornered by Pendergast:Pendergast: Don't you want to see [your daughter] grow up?Foster: Behind bars? *shakes his head*
- Faux Affably Evil: Foster can come across like this on occasion, such as in Whammy Burger where he makes casual conversation with other customers and tells them to keep eating their food after he pulls out a gun. It's an unusual case as it's likely intended to be a genuine display of manners and to keep people from panicking but it comes across as this anyway. He also deliberately adopts this tone with the golfer.
- 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 Whammy Burger 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.
- 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 Prendergast. Both are or have been servants (Foster worked for a military contractor and Prendergast is a police sergeant) who receive little to no overt appreciation for their service, least of all from their superiors. However, while Foster lets his anger get the best of him, cutting him off from his (ex-)wife and child and dragging him deeper and deeper into an abyss of rage, Prendergast focuses on the greater good he provides, eventually stands up to those who belittled him, earning their respect, and ultimately reaffirms 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, and pities Foster's pettiness.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? Hey. They lie to everybody. They lie to the fish. But that doesn't give you any special right to do what you did today.
- Friend to All Children: Downplayed, but Foster does make an effort to be nicer to kids than adults. During the Whammy Burger scene, he tries to reassure a clearly frightened child and he later makes polite conversation with and tries to protect the kid who shows him how to use the rocket launcher. He also becomes immediately, immensely concerned for the safety of the little girl in the barbecuing family when, after he holds her hand with his bloody one and thus sees blood on hers, he worries that he's somehow hurt her accidentally.
- From Bad to Worse: How a really bad day can turn into a total nightmare, The Movie.
- 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" in the span of a day.
- Gangbangers: Foster accidentally ends up on the self-proclaimed territory of some Hispanic gangsters, who subsequently try to mug him. After he fights them off, they try killing him in a drive by shooting, which fails spectacularly when they miss him entirely and crash their car.
- 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 against him. Unfortunately for them, they're such poor shots that they injure several other people but miss him completely before crashing their 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 justifying his actions less and less as the film progresses.
- 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 Sgt. 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. However, watch as he cracks the case, treats witnesses with respect rather than frustrating them with a list of questions, stands up to his frustrating wife, punches out a cop who insults 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.
- Go Out with a Smile: Foster smiles after Prendergast shoots him, reveals that he never had anything but a water gun, and jokes that he "would have got" him.
- Grumpy Old Man: The golfer who tries to hit Foster with a golf ball is an old man who is very pissy, even to his friend.
- Guns Do Not Work That Way: Contrary to what Nick says, M72 LAW is not a heatseeker nor guided missile, just plain old rocket-propelled anti-armor grenade. It would also never be able to traverse the underground canal all the way to the end. It would just blow up at first collision after its fuse being primed.
- Happier Home Movie: The film ends on one. An earlier one, however, subverts this by establishing that Bill was always someone with a horrid temper who often unleashed it on his wife, showing us that the breakdown of his marriage was a long time coming even before everything fell apart for him.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Foster. His wife divorced him because of it, and even his mother admits to being frightened of him.
- Hate Sink: While already a terrible setting filled with deeply self-centered and opportunistic people, Nick the Neo Nazi is easily the most unpleasant of them all, for being bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, racist and an all-around unrepentant Jerkass. It makes it all the more worth it that he is the only person in the film Foster straight up directly murders in cold-blood.
- 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 at his wife over something trivial. It takes from that point to the end of the movie for it to fully sink in. Prendergast's "The Reason You Suck" Speech is the Coup de Grâce which makes Foster realize just how far he's fallen.Foster: I'm the bad guy? [Beat] How did that happen?
- Hellish L.A.: Traffic, heat waves, racial tensions, rich fat cats, apathetic service workers, homeless bums with made-up sob stories, neo-Nazis, gangbangers, the defense jobs laying everyone off now that the Cold War is over... welcome to Los Angeles in the early '90s.
- Henpecked Husband: Prendergast. This changes by the end.
- Hero Antagonist: Sergeant 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.
- Humans Are Flawed: Foster's cynical hatred of modern society at first makes it appear as if the film is portraying a Humans Are Bastards message with him as the lone hero willing to fight back against the petty grievances everyone is forced to put up with. The finale reveals that Prendergast is the true hero of the story, accepting that while Foster's views are sympathetic, they aren't an excuse to carve a narcissistic path of retribution against the world simply for existing.
- 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 terrorized staff for lunch after all.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy:
- The gang members manage to shoot just about 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 quite often 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.
- The gang members manage to shoot just about 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 quite often in real life. Combine with blatant abuse of Gangsta Style, and you have a recipe for disaster.
- Implacable Man: Nothing is going to stop Foster on his way across LA to his ex-wife and daughter.
- 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. Winds up in Hypocritical Humor when the Japanese cop tries telling the Korean man, in Japanese, not to smoke in the station.
- Ironic Name: Foster's moniker "D-Fens," as aside from his defensive encounters with the Mexican hoodlums and the Neo-Nazi store owner, he's a full blown aggressor throughout the film.
- 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 being able to finish 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. His issues are linked with anger instead of malice, however.
- 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 acquiesces 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.
- Many of Foster's gripes, that the traffic jam is solely due to the city spending its inflated construction budget without caring who they inconvenience, that the convenience store owner is a jerk who won't do something as minor as give him change, that the golfer is a rich bastard who could have just let him pass through, that he was fired despite being promised opportunity and decent life, and that the food in Whammy Burger is pathetic compared to what's advertised, are not off base and things many viewers can find themselves in agreement with. His reactions, not so much.
- While the golfer only had to wait a few minutes for Foster to pass through, and there was absolutely no excuse to pitch a golf ball to try to deliberately injure him, Foster is trespassing on private property.
- 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 Sgt. 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 ago, 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 mutter 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 a closeted one, despite being a homophobe.
- Mistaken for Racist: The Neo-Nazi incorrectly assumes Foster shares his abhorrent views on race, gender, and sexuality. 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 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," the film's namesake.
- 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's shop. He is offended that the guy rudely refuses to give him change despite his register being open, overprices everything, speaks rudely with a heavy accent, and thinks he's a robber and tries to attack him with a bat. Foster is willing to pay a fair price for his soda, but he sees nothing wrong with smashing up the man's store for the overpricing, making rude and ignorant remarks in response to the store-owner's rudeness, and taking his bat for trying to attack him. Prendergast sums it up quite nicely:Prendergast: So he stole your baseball bat, but he paid for your soda? Ooh, this guy's discriminating!
- More Dakka: The gym bag.Prendergast: How many guns were in the gym bag?
Angie: I don't know. Lots o' guns. They got all the guns in the fuckin' 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 holds the hand of while leading her and her family out of view. Also, while he watches his home movies and sees how much he berated his wife and daughter, he seems to feel genuine shame.
- 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 despite being the costar of the film.
- Nice Guy: Despite his troubled home life and the various humiliations he has to endure, Prendergast is unfailingly polite, tolerant, and friendly with everybody, to the point of being an Extreme Doormat. At least until he's pushed too far...
- Nice to the Waiter: The two golfers that Foster comes across. One of them is more chill and believes him to be a groundskeeper trying to pass through, while his friend, Frank, is pissy enough to not only curse at him, but try and hit him with a golf ball when he refuses to get off the course. Even if Foster was a groundskeeper, it seems that Frank would have still tried to hit him with a golf ball.
- 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. Furthermore, Prendergast gets over it in the end. Foster doesn't, and dies in Suicide by Cop.
- Not So Similar: Many characters in the movie can be seen as twisted foils to Foster. Compare Foster's own patriotism, ignorance (seeming to hold 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, with the Neo-Nazi who of course is an outright bigot who was apparently 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.
- 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 moments ago attempted to kill him in a drive-by, but failed."You missed."
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Strangely, William Foster is credited as D-Fens, his license plate number, despite never being called that in the film.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Prendergast had to go through the ordeal of losing his own daughter to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), made even worse by the fact that she was two years old. His wife was never the same afterward, and Prendergast sacrificed his career for a desk job because he was afraid of leaving his wife alone should he die as well. Unfortunately, his devotion to his wife earned him nothing but scorn from his Jerkass colleagues, which he had to put up with for years on top of his wife's mental problems.
- Passed in Their Sleep: Prendergast's daughter died a number of years ago in her sleep. Supposedly the cause was SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), even though Prendergast notes she was two years old.
- Pater Familicide: Prendergast claims that Foster intends to do this to his wife and daughter, even though he refuses to admit it. It's ambiguous whether he planned to hurt them or not, but he almost certainly planned to take his own life at least. Earlier in the film, he does unambiguously threaten to kill his wife.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: What Foster believes he's doing. Though the only ones who actually fit "evil" are the hoodlums and the neo-Nazi.
- Papa Wolf: The caretaker 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 caretaker and his family. He immediately stops ranting about cutting his hand on the barbed wire fence, assuring them that 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 pets the dog lovingly.
- After accidentally shooting a firearm, Foster pushes a nearby kid out of the way. For all his flaws, he doesn't want to see a child (or anyone he deems innocent) hurt.
- He also has genuine sympathy for the "Not Economically Viable" guy and is the only person who doesn't treat him like a nuisance.
- He also tries to reassure the understandably terrified patrons during the Whammy Burger scene, wanting to make clear that he doesn't want to hurt anyone and being nice to everyone in the building even as he holds it up with an automatic firearm.
- He makes an honest effort to avoid making things worse when he runs into the gang members, offering to just go on his way and trying to respect them. He only gets violent when they still try to harass him and rob him.
- 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, but they're clearly just police partners and very good friends. Prendergast's wife goes mental when she answers his phone.
- Politically Incorrect Villain:
- 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.
- Blink and you'll miss it, but Yardley actually starts smiling after this, implying that Prendergast's return to the force by the end of the movie will now be a more pleasant one and segueing this trope into Yardley's moment.
- Pre-emptive Declaration: When Foster uses the phonebooth:Innocent Bystander: If you haven't noticed, others are waiting to use the phone.
Foster: There are?
IB: That's right, you selfish asshole!
Foster: Oh, that's too bad. Because you know what?
[shoots the hell out of the phone with an automatic weapon]
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 Sergeant 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 service and food, blows up a construction site, and causes at least two 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 are likely identifying with Bill up until then.
- Psychopathic Manchild:
- While some of Foster's frustrations are somewhat understandable, attacking a cashier over the cost of soda and shooting up a fast food joint because they wouldn't serve him breakfast feel like a five-year-old whining over not getting the candy he wanted.
- The gangbangers act like teenage bullies: attacking what they see as a weak person only to chicken out when they see Foster can defend himself, throwing a furious tantrum over someone having the audacity to fight back, and recklessly firing guns without concern for the innocent people they hurt. When Foster finds one of the gangbangers on the ground after their car crashed, he's whimpering like a little baby.
- Nick the Neo-Nazi acts like a nasty overgrown schoolyard bully, antagonizing two gay men and Detective Torres for no reason except just to be a dick and happily throwing the word "faggot" around like a hypermasculine teenager. The way he shows off his stash of Nazi paraphernalia to Foster comes off like a teenager bragging about all the cool stuff he has.
- "Psycho" Strings: Every now and then when 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 Prendergast's 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.
- Rage Breaking Point: Although Foster is eventually revealed to have not been very stable in terms of staying calm for a long time, the film still starts with him finally having enough of being stuck in a traffic jam and deciding to abandon his car and walk his way home come hell or high water.
- Random Passerby Advice: Foster decides to give a road crew doing make-work and snarling up traffic "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: Sgt. 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 Whammy Burger 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 one of the first pieces of evidence that Foster wasn't actually going to work.
- Remonstrating with a Gun: A famous example with the Whammy Burger scene. Subverted in that he is a maniac, with Foster using the opportunity to take 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
- Revenge Is Not Justice: Deconstructed. Foster's rampage is caused by stress revolving around the loss of his job, marriage, and access to his child, and the general degradation of modern society. It gradually gets more dangerous and destructive. He busts up a shop because the owner was rude to him and all his merchandise was offensively overpriced, he attacks some thugs for trying to rob him and subsequently drive-by-shoot him, he lets an angry old man die from a heart attack after trying to hit him with a golf ball just because he was passing through the golf course, destroys a road to give a wasteful construction crew something to really fix, he kills a man for breaking his daughter's birthday gift and trying to turn him into the police, and Prendergast believes he might be planning to kill his ex-wife, daughter, and himself. Sergeant Prendergast empathizes with him because he lost his daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but he rejects Foster's excuse because none of these things gave him the right to go on a rampage.Serg. Pendergast: Let's meet a couple of police officers. They're all good guys.
Bill Foster: I'm the bad guy?
Serg. Pendergast: ...Yeah.
Bill Foster: How did that happen? I did everything they told me to. Did you know I build missiles?
Serg. Pendergast: Yeah.
Bill Foster: I help to protect America. You should be rewarded for that. Then they give it to the plastic surgeon. You know, they lied to me.
Serg. 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? Hey, they lie to everybody. They lie to the fish! But that doesn't give you any special right to do what you did today.
- Rich Bastard: Foster encounters one of these while passing through a golf course who refuses to let him do so, trying to hit him with a golf ball. It doesn't end well for the golfer.
- Riddle for the Ages: Where was Foster going every day after he lost his job?
- Room Full of Crazy: The Neo-Nazi's private storeroom.
- Sanity Slippage: Foster gets crazier every hour. Should be noted that once he realizes 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 slight things, such as the fact that he can't get breakfast at a fast food joint two minutes after they stopped serving it.
- The Slow Walk: Foster. Also the Ominous Walk, with background music, after the drive-by.
- Ship Tease: Subverted. In a lesser film, Prendergast and Sandra obviously would be quite happy being more than police partners. Tastefully, this film does not take the cheap drama route and keeps them very pleasantly platonic.
- 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.
- Snooty Sports: a wealthy golfer is one of Foster's Asshole Victims.Guess what? You're going to die wearing that stupid little hat. Now how does that make you feel?
- 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. Then he steals their duffel bag full of firearms. Then he takes a combat suit and a shoulder-fired rocket launcher from an army surplus store.
- 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 off the pier.
- Spiritual Successor:
- Grand Theft Auto (its successor); Taxi Driver (what it's a successor to).
- Possibly to Colors, with its focus on violence in LA, which also featured Robert Duvall as a good cop.
- God Bless America's first act can easily be seen as Falling Down... Played for Laughs.
- Unhinged (2020) is also a successor, following an angry man who's been divorced and fired and is now lashing out, although Russell Crowe's character is portrayed much less sympathetically than Foster.
- 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 STINKIN' SODA! You're the thief!"
- Suicide by Cop: After his Heel Realization, Foster draws a water pistol on Prendergast so the cop will shoot him.
- Suspect Is Hatless:
- When Prendergast asks Angie to describe D-FENS:Angie: He looked like you, but [he's] taller and had hair
Detective Jones: [with sarcasm] Good description, Angie!
- Afterwards, the best description Prendergast can come up with for the mysterious D-FENS is that he's a middle-aged white man wearing a white shirt and tie and carrying a gym bag. Captain Yardley finds this...less than helpful:Captain Yardley: [holds up his own gym bag] Prendergast, what's this?
Prendergast: A gym bag.
Captain Yardley: Does this mean you're putting me under arrest?
- When Prendergast asks Angie to describe D-FENS:
- Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Sgt. 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 out a guy 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.
- They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Foster by all means is just an average guy, who you'll find tens of in any at least remotely civilized urban area. But after he snaps, the mayhem he causes seriously sends shivers down your spine.
- 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:
- Tragic Dream: William just wants to reunite with his wife and daughter. That's not so hard...right?
- Tragic Villain: Foster. While it's clear he was always a guy with a very bad temper, he also endured some terrible luck and it's clear he's as much a victim of his flaws as everyone else around him is.
- Tranquil Fury: Foster always tries to stay calm, but his vile temper is clearly on display in many of his interactions, such as the fast food restaurant where he speaks calmly but his nearly murderous rage is clear in his voice.
- Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: Foster's attitude towards the Korean store owner is partially fueled by ignorance and bigotry. The store owner is incredibly rude to him to begin with and outrageously overcharges for his merchandise, but Foster even ventures into the use of somewhat bigoted lines like "Do you have any idea how much money my country has given your country?" (when Bill himself doesn't even know) and "You come to my country, take my money, and don't even have the decency to learn my language?" even though the man is speaking English, broken by a thick accent though it may be.
- Troubling Unchildhood Behavior: Played for Laughs. Although extremely nice, the child coaching Foster on how to fire a bazooka knows everything about it, implicitly from watching violent movies way above his recommended age.
- Unconfessed Unemployment: As Foster goes on his violent rampage throughout the city, the cops discover that he 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 gonna die wearing that stupid little hat!"
- Ungrateful Bastard: The homeless panhandler to whom Foster gives his briefcase just to shut him up. When the panhandler finds that there's nothing inside but a sandwich lunch, he calls Foster a son of a bitch and throws the apple at him, despite saying that he was hungry and could sell the briefcase to buy more food.
- Unstoppable Rage: Foster. Especially towards the asshole golfer.
- 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 Has a Point: While Foster might be a bad-tempered and unstable individual who acts very irrationally, he does make a few valid points about some of the situations and people he encounters.
- For starters, the convenience store clerk was overcharging for certain items (like a simple can of soda) and wouldn't help Foster break a dollar for change to use the phone.
- The fast food staff were very unhelpful, patronizing, and wouldn't serve Foster breakfast just one minute past the time when it would've been easy to just give a him a breakfast that was warm and ready to serve anyway.
- Foster is not quite a model citizen, but he's definitely not a sick bastard like the neo-Nazi surplus store owner.
- A golf course isn't really a good use of property as a whole. Parks, playgrounds, and a petting zoo would've been a great asset to the local community for minimal cost instead of an exclusive golf course for only a small handful of people who can afford the extravagant fees.
- The construction crew was tearing up the street and causing a nasty traffic jam for seemingly no practical reason. The construction guy that Foster talks to was also just laying around and was a sarcastic jerk to boot.
- 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 Realization that he's "the bad guy." The final nail in the coffin is Prendergast'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.
- Walking Armory: Quite literally as Foster carries a bag full of weapons and uses many of them on anyone who provokes his wrath, never using the same weapon twice.
- 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 makes 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.
- Womanchild: Prendergast's wife is this: constantly whining about everything, forcing Prendergast to give up his work time to deal with her anxieties, and ordering him around to an inexcusable degree. At one point, Prendergast has to soothe her by singing a lullaby.
- 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. While he is an educated man, he made his bones as an aerospace engineer working for a paycheck rather than a scientist or an academic. When he snaps after being laid off, he is the Angry White Man personified, raging at a society that left him and others like him behind and treading a very dark path that leaves nothing but destruction. For every cogent point he raises about the world he, the other characters, and the viewer live in, he then proceeds to cast a very dark shadow over it through his increasingly horrifying actions and his pettier and more questionable concerns.
- World of Jerkass: Prendergast, Sandra, Adele, and perhaps Beth aside, most of the characters in this film are deeply unpleasant people. Bill Foster was an emotionally abusive husband to Beth and scared her so much that she slapped a restraining order on him. The people he encounters on his journey across the city include Gangbangers, a Neo Nazi, a Phony Veteran looking to mooch off him, a greedy shop owner who won't break a bill for a man in need and overcharges for everything in his store, a restaurant manager who won't give him a breakfast order despite the fact that breakfast only ended a minute prior and they still have breakfast meals warmed and ready to serve, a construction crew screwing up the roads for no reason other than justifying their inflated budget, 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 new 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 movie-star paradise. Crash has similar themes.
- Yandere: Foster towards Beth to some degree. At the end, Prendergast speculates that he ultimately plans to kill his wife and child before doing himself in out of grief and guilt. 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 says "We're the same, you and me."