A-list actors who have directed themselves in films is nothing new. Woody Allen did it for years, as did Charlie Chaplin and Clint Eastwood. In recent years we’ve seen Bradley Cooper and John Krasinski join the club and both received high praise for their respective debut efforts. Now it’s Viggo Mortensen’s (GREEN BOOK; EASTERN PROMISES; the LOTR trilogy) turn with FALLING, a film he also wrote, co-produced, and even composed and performed some of its music.
In FALLING, Viggo plays John Peterson, a commercial pilot who lives with his nurse husband, Eric (Terry Chen), in California. John’s father, Willis (Lance Henriksen, TV’s MILLENNIUM), lives alone on the family’s farm in upstate New York and with the old man now experiencing the onset of dementia, John brings him to California, hoping that Willis will be able to find a home there that would be closer to John and his sister, Sarah (Laura Linney, SULLY; MR. HOLMES; TV’s OZARK and THE BIG C), and their families. Willis’ irascible behaviour and his vocal rejection of John’s life choices brings back bittersweet memories for John.
Mortensen has said in interviews that FALLING was inspired by personal events. No, he did not grow up on a farm. He’s from New York City. And no, he’s not in relationship with a Chinese man. So what exactly is the story’s connection to reality? Mortensen said that the memories that John has of Willis (played in his younger years by Sverrir Gudnason, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB; THE CIRCLE) and of his mother, Gwen (Hannah Gross, JOKER; TV’s MINDHUNTER), are reminiscent of those Mortensen has of his own parents.
At its core, FALLING is a story about finding acceptance and forgiveness of others in your life. Many will watch this film and think that John is either a saint or a fool for forgiving Willis, whose anger has only been exacerbated by his dementia. What isn’t addressed, though, is why Willis is so angry. All we learn is that one day Willis was a good, if perhaps a bit irresponsible, husband and father and the next day he wasn’t. Whatever the reason, John seems to have resigned himself to enduring Willis’ verbal abuse come what may. Sarah, though, is less forgiving and she copes by putting as much distance between herself and Willis as she can. There is an interesting scene where Willis goes after Sarah’s teenage daughter for her fashion choices. The girl is not afraid to stand up to her grandfather though. It’s something she learned indirectly from her mother because Sarah was never able to do it herself. It reminded me of a quiet conversation I once had with my grandmother. She never messed with me again but it didn’t stop her from battling with my mother.
Henriksen is the star of the film and he gives it his all with Willis spewing out vitriol at every opportunity. Unfortunately, a good portion of the dialogue between Willis and John is repetitive. I get that people who have dementia often repeat themselves but that doesn’t make for the most interesting cinematic experience. Still, Mortensen’s heart is in the right place and his work here – both in front of and behind the camera – is tender and sincere. He’s got a few more screenplays in the pipeline so it’s safe to assume that FALLING won’t be the only film that Mortensen directs.
FALLING will be released onto a streaming platform on February 5, 2021 (no news yet on which one) so that it can qualify for the 93rd Academy Awards. Expect Henriksen to nab an Oscar® nomination for his performance here. Keep your eyes out for director David Cronenberg (EASTERN PROMISES; THE FLY), who has a cameo as Willis’ proctologist.
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