The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - FALLING | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - FALLING

falling film review
A gay man contends with the visit of his homophobic father.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Viggo Mortensen

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen, Laura Linney, Terry Chen, Sverrir Gudnason, Hannah Gross, David Cronenberg

falling film poster

It's a curious moral quirk that while we're encouraged to walk away from our husbands and wives if a relationship has deteriorated to the point where their presence brings nothing but unpleasantness, we're expected to stick by our parents no matter how badly they might treat us. Short of sexual abuse, we're encouraged to forgive and come to terms with any mistreatment we might have suffered at the hands of a mother or father, simply because they brought us into the world. The notion of reconciling with an estranged parent has fuelled many a fictional drama, but the harsh truth is that in reality many relationships between mothers and daughters, sons and fathers are simply irreconcilable.

falling film review

That appears to be the case with the father/son dynamic presented in Viggo Mortensen's directorial debut, Falling. Willis Peterson (Lance Henriksen) is an angry octogenarian whose deteriorating physical and mental state means he can no longer live alone on his farm in the snowy rural MidWest. His long-suffering son, John (Mortensen), has flown him out to California with the intent of finding a nearby home for Willis. The old man is none too happy with the arrangement, as he views California as a land populated by "fairies" like his own gay son John and his husband Eric (Terry Chen).


A couple of years ago Mortensen found himself at the centre of criticism for his role in the Oscar-winning Green Book, which critics claimed presented an overly simplistic view of racism. A similar critique might be levelled at his own film's presentation of homophobia. Nuance is nowhere to be found in the relationship between John and his cartoonishly bigoted father. The conflict here is cheaply drawn with crumbling crayons as John tries to remain composed amid a barrage of abuse directed towards both him and his husband. Think the snarling racism of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino and you'll get the picture, though at least Mortensen has the good sense not to have his antagonist discover enlightenment by the end of the movie. We know that this is all building to the inevitable climax where John will finally explode in a confrontation with his old man, but the journey to that point isn't particularly insightful.

falling film review

Mortensen pads out his film with flashbacks to John's childhood, where we witness Willis (played by Mortensen lookalike Sverrir Gudnason) mistreat his wife (Hannah Gross), eventually shacking up with another woman (Bracken Burns) and growing estranged from his long-haired son, who eschews his traditionally masculine values. At one point Mortensen falls back on the tired old trope of a son finding himself unable to shoot a deer to demonstrate his sensitivity. These flashbacks never really tell us anything we haven't deciphered from the dynamic between the grownup John and his geriatric Dad, which suggests that Falling is a drama that may have been better suited to the stage.


The movie's strongest scene sees a visit from John's similarly estranged sister Sarah (Laura Linney) and her teenage son and daughter. While the adults engage in a passive aggressive bout with Willis, Sarah's kids have no such qualms about calling the old duffer out on his bullshit. Willis's outdated mentality has no place in their lives, and they aren't burdened by the guilt of having been brought into the world by his seed. While her children stand up for themselves, we watch as Sarah struggles to hold back the tears, perhaps wishing she and John had demonstrated such strength when they were that age.

falling film review

Amid the cliches, it's the performances that make Falling worth sticking by. Henriksen gets the shouty showcase role, and he's perfectly cast as this domineering and intimidating presence. Mortensen gives himself the water-carrier role, as John is required not to even react but to simply stand by and take his father's abuse. Despite saying little and doing less, Mortensen quietly communicates the decades of suffering and angst he's endured at the hands of this man who shares his blood and little else.

Falling
 is in UK/ROI cinemas and on VOD now.

2020 movie reviews