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Film / Mulholland Falls

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Mulholland Falls is a 1996 Film Noir directed by Lee Tamahori and featuring an All-Star Cast including Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Chazz Palminteri, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Treat Williams, Jennifer Connelly, Andrew McCarthy, and John Malkovich.

Maxwell Hoover (Nolte) is the head of an elite squad of LAPD detectives in 1953, investigating the murder of a young woman (Connelly) who has been linked to a retired Army general in the Atomic Energy Commission (Malkovich).

This film provides examples of:

  • Betty and Veronica: Max is torn between Allison (brunette) and his wife Katharine (blonde). He ends up with neither, since Allison is murdered as part of a military conspiracy and his wife Katharine leaves him for good after she discovers the affair.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Verging on full-on Downer Ending. They kill both the Captain as well as Fitzgerald, avenging Allison Pond. However, Coolidge is killed in the process, the US government will not be exposed as conducting illegal tests, and the LAPD anti-gangster squad is dispanded.
  • Blackmail Backfire: The bad guys try to blackmail Detective Hoover with his affair with Allison by holding the film reels of their liasons over his head. The problem is, they mailed the copy of the reels directly to his house, as opposed to his office or a safety deposit box, so his wife has already seen them by the time he finds out. He later points out to the blackmailers that he really doesn't give a crap anymore who they send it to now, making their whole scheme worthless.
  • Break Them by Talking: The General likes to give those speeches to the main character, also pulling a "Not So Different" Remark.
  • Caught on Tape: Alison's gay friend recorded a lot of her liasons at the motel on film through a two-way mirror. Both Hoover and the General are after these film reels because of the potential embarassment they could bring to respectively the former's wife and the latter's reputation. It also turns out that Alison had filmed proof of illegal nuclear tests in the desert, which the bad guys killed her for.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: Averted with Alison. Her body is found bloodied, covered in dirt, and mangled. There's even a shot where the cops hold up her arm and it bends like rubber because every bone in her body has been broken.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The very first scene establishes Hoover and his fellow detectives as a no-nonsense group of hardasses who will resort to any means to bring criminals to justice, often violently.
  • Death by Irony: The film culminates with the bad guy being tossed off the plane, the same way he murdered his victim.
  • Death Flight:
    • Allison was killed when the bad guys shove her out of a plane, breaking every bone in her body.
    • The Big Bad and The Dragon attempt to do this to Max and Elleroy as well. But the two proceed to turn the tables on the bad guys and push them off the plane with extreme prejudice.
  • Death Is Dramatic: All strings are being pulled with the death of Elleroy:
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Surprisingly Max doesn't get to keep Katharine.
  • Femme Fatale: Interestingly, subverted with Jennifer Connelly's character Alison despite the setting being ripe for it. While she did have a torrid affair with the main character, a married Sergeant in the LAPD, it's never established that she was evil or manipulative in any way. She's even killed early on, and becomes his motive for revenge against the real villains.
  • Groin Attack: Twice, in the parkade fight and during the final plane combat.
  • Gilligan Cut: After Jack Flynn is collected by the squad, and told that they're taking him to "Mulholland Falls," Flynn rightly states that there's no falls in Mulholland, resulting in the cops all laughing. We immediately cut to Jack bouncing down the hillside, having been tossed down "Mulholland Falls," a large hill off of Mulholland Drive.
  • Happy Flashback: Max's back story with Allison Pond is explored through flashbacks of memorable moments they shared.
  • He Knows Too Much: Alison was murdered because she had uncovered and recorded illegal nuclear testing on U.S. military personnel at the atomic testing site.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Played straight as an arrow with the death of Elleroy.
  • Jurisdiction Friction:
    • The LAPD detectives' investigation leads them onto restricted military areas. When they're inevitably arrested by the MPs for trespassing, the Colonel points out that they're out of their jurisdiction.
    • When the detectives' investigation starts to uncover a high-level conspiracy within the U.S. military, an FBI Agent is sent to Los Angeles in a slimy attempt to intimidate the local cops. This falls flat on its face when Hoover (the main character—an LAPD homicide detective—, not the FBI director of the same name) and the Chief immediately call it out for what it is, and Hoover later ambushes the FBI agent to beat him up. Then he drags the guy out of the federal building they're in and points to a line on the floor to tell him where his jurisdiction ends.
  • Love Triangle: Max is torn between Allison and Katharine. He eventually chooses the latter.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jennifer Connelly! 'nuff said.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: The general draws a connection between himself and Max during their first encounter on the military base.
  • Posthumous Character: Jennifer Connelly's Ms. Fanservice character is killed off almost immediately, and her character is only developed through flashbacks or in-universe film footage.
  • Rabid Cop: Hoover and his crew deal with organized crime in 1950s L.A. through extralegal means with the unofficial consent of the chief. Methods include arresting mob guys at parties and driving out to the hills to throw them off a cliff, or overdosing one of them on cocaine.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: During the detectives' investigation in the Forbidden Zone, Elleroy breaks into a long-winded rant about cowboy movies that doesn't really have anything to with the rest of the plot.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Doubly Subverted. When attempting to get into a restricted military area, a character is taunted for trying to shoot open the gate lock. After lockpicking failed, they returned to use this trope, with success.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Mandatory for film-noir.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Chinatown.
  • Sunshine Noir: Despite what the movie poster implies, most scenes take place in bright Californian light.
  • A Taste of Their Own Medicine: Mc Cafferty suffers a Death by Irony when being tossed off the plane in the same way he got rid of Allison.
  • Title Drop: "This is Mulholland Falls, Jack." Specifically, it's a nickname that the four detective protagonists have made up for the hills around Mulholland Drive. It's "sort of like the Niagara Falls"—except they drop unwanted criminals to their disfigurement or death.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's never made clear if Jack Flynn (William Petersen) ultimately survived his trip down "Mulholland Falls." He's in pretty bad shape when they leave him, however.
  • Where Do You Think You Are?: "You guys can't do this. This is America." — "This isn't America, Jack. This is L.A."
  • You Watch Too Much X: Subverted. Madsen's taunts Penn's character that he'd seen too many movies when trying to shoot open the gate to the Forbidden Zone. It turned out to be the better option after all.