REVIEW: Reviewing someone’s passion project can be a tricky thing. It’s clear from the dedication at the end of FALLING this was a deeply personal project for Viggo Mortensen, who not only stars but also wrote the script and makes his directorial debut with this thorny family drama. It’s a tough film to watch as it all hinges on healing rifts that are rather insurmountable, with Lance Henriksen playing one of the most unlikable patriarch’s I’ve ever seen. Thus, it becomes a frustrating exercise, watching him bulldoze his way through everyone’s life as they constantly turn the other cheek, making it a film that’s hard to relate to unless you’ve had the distinct misfortune of suffering through a relationship with someone similar.
Still, one can’t deny Mortensen has put his heart and soul into the deliberate, slowly paced drama, which unfolds over a disastrous visit between Lance Henriksen’s increasing enfeebled patriarch and his gay son (Mortensen), who, along with his husband (Terry Chen) has to suffer through a neverending barrage of insults and racist comments, with Henriksen’s only saving grace being that he seems to have a fondness for his granddaughter (Gabby Velis). Through extensive flashbacks, we come to realize that he’s a good enough person when it comes to dealing with children, but the second they get any agency whatsoever and start to question him, he turns on them with a vengeance.
The focus is divided between Mortensen and his older dad’s fractured relationship and scenes depicting Henriksen as a young man (where he’s played by Sverrir Gudnason of BORG VS MCENROE) and his tortured relationship with his put upon wife (Mindhunter’s Hannah Gross) and kids. You never really get a sense of what’s made him such a horrible man, other than the fact that he assumes anyone with even the slightest sense of agency either seeks to dominate him or betray him – with this getting aggravated later by the fact that his son has no choice but to take over his life as his health begins to fail.
In many ways FALLING is a tough film to watch, as we’re essentially voyeurs, watching horrible family dysfunction without it ever really amounting to much, other than the fact that there’s some grace to forgiveness even if its undeserved. One can’t fault the craft or the acting, with Mortensen low-key as the kindly son forced to keep in his simmering rage. He only has one breakdown, which is maybe a little on the nose being juxtaposed with the battle between father and son from Howard Hawks’ RED RIVER, but he remains enormously sympathetic throughout. Laura Linney also has a small but pivotal part as Henriksen’s daughter, who, it’s suggested, suffered even worse abuse at his hands than her brother, while Terry Chen tests believability as Mortensen’s unfailingly supportive husband. Also keep your eyes peeled for Paul Gross and a cameo from none other than David Cronenberg.
One thing FALLING does that’s terrific is that it gives Lance Henriksen a showcase role. One of the best in the biz, Henriksen’s been perennially underrated ever since the eighties, and approaching eighty he’s as good as he ever was, sinking his teeth into the role with vigor. He’s thoroughly despicable but does play some unexpected graceful notes that I didn’t expect, and if this gives him a late in life comeback as a character actor, FALLING will have been a tremendous success.
While a tough slog due mostly to how unpleasant it is, one can’t deny that some will deeply relate to this story, which is reminiscent in some ways of the film AFFLICTION, although it’s perhaps a less angry work. It’s a passionate debut for Mortensen but it’s not an easy watch.