Joel Schumacher And The Anti-Hero In Falling Down

The nineties may not have been the greatest decade for movie characters in my view, but the anti-hero in Falling Down was a highlight to me. We will be looking at a classic moment in the movie, which signals the beginning of the end for this tragic character.

Joel Schumacher

Kiefer Sutherland in Joel Schumacher's Flatliners

An adolescent in the 1980’s, I felt as if St Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys and Flatliners were made just for my generation (and a bit for Kiefer Sutherland, too). Because of their relatively high concept, some of these medium budget movies had a massive impact, and director Joel Schumacher could just keep going on. He was given the Batman franchise with the Akiva Goldsman scripted Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, which weren’t necessarily great movies, but they still made their blockbuster budgets back. Well, just.

St Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys and Flatliners
were made just for my generation.

With Tigerland he entered more serious territory, and put Colin Farrell on the map as a lead actor. Its budget and shooting schedule would be a challenge for any indie director.

Schumacher has always been flexible in the material he picked. Teen angst, fantasy, war or thriller, he usually delivers a satisfying and cinematic result.

Joel Of All Trades

For more anti-hero examples, check out Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth, a project that rested on Hitchcock’s shelf for a long timeWith Schumacher at the helm, and favourites Farrell and Sutherland (only briefly) in front of the camera, the script was updated and delivered to the screen with dazzling style and dialogue, belying its humble budget. With Colin Farrell as yet another anti-hero example in the role of Stu Shepard, I have always found Phone Booth an inspiration, and a true celebration of audience-driven independent filmmaking.

I have always found Phone Booth an inspiration,
and a true celebration of audience-driven independent filmmaking.

Schumacher – now in his seventies – has remained agile, moving with the taste of the times. Some of his more recent credits saw him join the dignitaries on the directing stable of Netflix’ House Of Cards.

Michael Douglas as D-Fens, the anti-hero in Falling DownCity Of Demons

In Falling Down (1993), recently retrenched defence worker William “D-Fens” (Michael Douglas) goes out of control on a sweltering day in L.A. It shows Schumacher just as comfortable shooting on the streets of New York in Phone Booth, as in the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles, where our anti-hero’s tragedy plays out. In fact this is one of my favourite nineties movies when it comes to portraying the city of angels, often using gorgeous long lens shots, against an ominous soundtrack. Only Michael Mann would top this two years later with Heat.

This is one of my favourite nineties movies
when it comes to portraying the city of angels.

Los Angeles may be cinematically sexy in this movie, it is surely not a happy city. Protagonists and antagonists all fight their own demons. Robert Duvall plays the proverbial fin de carrière cop, who will catch the baddy at the end. However, before the hero vs. anti-hero finale in the climax, he will pay a heavy price.

Falling Down starts from an interesting premise, in that the hero is not the protagonist. Central to this movie is the anti-hero of D-Fens, played by Michael Douglas, who turns in a landmark performance.

Falling Down's Anti-Hero: D-FensThe Devil’s Advocate

D-Fens is the devil’s advocate. Why do we empathise with this anti-hero? Because he represents the disgruntled Angelino who is mad as hell, and he is not going to take it anymore. Only, D-Fens’ anger is of the not-so-pc kind.

In our movie moment, a Korean store owner refuses to break a dollar for his customer’s phone call, and D-Fens explodes like a nail bomb in slow motion. As his rage builds, D-Fens reveals his revenge strategy against this city… The poor dude won’t die at his hands. But he will suffer. While taking the shop down, D-Fens hurls insult after insult at the poor shopkeeper, who is hiding behind the counter.

The poor dude won’t die at his hands.
But he will suffer.

The shopkeeper, who now believes D-Fens is after his money, tells him to take it. D-Fens replies:

“You think I’m a thief? Oh, you see, I’m not the thief. I’m not the one charging 85 cents for a *stinking* soda! You’re the thief. I’m just standing up for my rights as a consumer.

Plummeting Down

This is an important scene in the movie, as it feels like the first watershed in the anti-hero’s steep downward descent, referenced in the movie title.  The scene opens with the Korean topping up the till, proving he definitely doesn’t lack small change. However, he may be sick of customers entering his shop without buying. So don’t push his buttons… Which leaves us with the dramatic question for this scene: “Who of these two men is more p***ed off?”

– Karel Segers

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