Sundance 2020 Review: ‘Falling’ Definitely Falls Flat

Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling attempts to dive into the uncomfortable topic of families divided over politics, yet succumbs to its need to beat the audience in the head over how incredibly awkward discussing political beliefs can be. It’s a picture that has its heart in the right place and aims to be a thoughtful family drama but it feels like one is watching a “movie family” rather than a real family.

When Willis (Lance Henriksen) stays with his gay son John (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Eric (Terry Chen), the film follows the immense friction between them which includes Willis having to cope with his son’s sexuality. It also keeps going out of its way to make sure the audience knows Willis is a bigot. In case it doesn’t become clear enough that Willis hates gays, he keeps saying every possible derogatory term thrown at gay people.

The lack of nuance lies heavily on the screenplay by Mortensen himself. In addition to being heavy handed with Wilson’s prejudice, the film’s minority characters fare less better. Given how John and Eric are an interracial gay couple, there was an easy opportunity to not address Eric’s race. Yet, it has Willis taking constant shots at the fact that he’s Asian.

As Willis figuratively has the words “I dislike gays” tattooed on his forehead, the picture cuts back and forth between the present day and flashback sequences involving Willis and Eric when they were younger that don’t coincide with the main storyline. The flashbacks are mainly thrown in for artistic measure and could’ve easily been written out.

If anything, Viggo Mortensen’s central performance is a slight saving grace. As Henriksen becomes saddled with heavy-handed dialogue in Mortensen’s own script, Mortensen still attempts to give a quiet, understated performance that contradicts such expositions. That being said, the one performer who felt like she was playing a real character and not a movie character was Laura Linney who portrays John’s sister, Sarah. Within the constraints of her short screen time, Linney plays a believable person who tries saving face with her own father while struggling to carry the burden he’s put on her.

Linney is the biggest saving grace in a film that feels like Mortensen taking a page from the Green Book script. As it tries depicting a marginalized community, it puts more emphasis on the arc of a close-minded protagonist that finds ways to take shots at said marginalized community. The biggest difference is that Falling has more ham-fisted dialogue and muddled direction.

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Matthew St.Clair

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