Another movie, another notch on the belt of WatchMojo’s top 10 movies they tell us will make you want to quit your job.
Unlike the last two (see here and here) I didn’t find much to like. The characters are extremely unlikable, their rationale doesn’t add much emotional depth and seems generally incongruous with their actions or unhelpful at any rate to liking them even more. Even most of the “good” characters who are supposedly less ambiguously awful aren’t.
In general, this movie had the issue that I had with Breaking Bad, I didn’t like any of the characters.
Which is different from saying the characters are poorly written, or that the plot or acting aren’t fantastic. Breaking Bad has all of these factors (and much more) to lean on. So, in my (un)professional opinion, you don’t really need to like the characters to like (or even love) a given show.
If Falling Down (1993) had any of these backing qualities to rely on in times of need, maybe I’d be more lenient towards it. But all of the characters are cardboard cut outs of various caricatures in Los Angeles. You have gang members, your homophobes, crooked cops and so on. The only characters with any meaningful description to their life tend to be white, middle class and figuring out that the economic system is mostly built on lies.
This is (supposedly) the draw of the movie. Some middle class white dude named William Foster (Michael Douglas) finally loses his temper a few too many times on his way to his daughter’s birthday party. Unfortunately (mild spoilers) he isn’t actually welcomed at the birthday party and his wife has a restraining order due to his propensity for violence. This was the first big blow to the credibility of the story.
After I found out that he wasn’t even wanted there then any sympathy I had for Foster as a character was gone. I was under the (apparently wrong) assumption that he was on his way to his daughter’s birthday party because he got off of work and then got stuck in traffic or something. But apparently, he’s always been a bit of a loose cannon, a neglectful parent and an all around not-so-nice-person. So I don’t understand why I should care if he gets there or not and I didn’t.
More to the point, there isn’t much to like about Foster. Douglas plays the character very well and has a commanding role when he’s in a given scene. But he’s just so generally unlikeable that it’s hard to really care whether he is commanding or not. After all, most of the words he is saying just become tiresome after a while. They’re just vague statements about how he is standing up for the common man and “American values”. All the while he is violating people’s freedom of speech, assembly and property throughout the whole movie, mostly to poor folks.
Unsurprising then how, about half way through the movie, a full on neo-Nazi thinks Foster is worth supporting and that their on the same team. While Foster might eventually disagree with him and say he’s standing up for American values it’s funny given where we are today in the political climate, that the neo-Nazi things this way.
There are other characters such as Foster’s wife or his child but we don’t get to know them very much. Which is somewhat surprising given how much of the plot revolves around them. Foster’s wife, Elizabeth (or Beth) is mostly defined by her fear of Foster and her love of her child. Oh, and also constantly having her own narratives of fear and potential abuse at the hands of Foster neglected by the police. That was so fun to watch!
This movie is overall just mean. It seems to take no pleasure in its social commentary and just treats it as a paltry excuse for violence that mostly harms people of color. Roger Ebert said that an analysis of this film that called it racist wouldn’t be correct, but I disagree…with Roger Ebert on a movie…look, it isn’t as if Ebert is an expert on racism, okay?
Anyways, Foster consistently disparages people of other races. He conflates Japanese folks with Korean folks and then uses insulting nativist language (“why didn’t you learn our language?”) and talks about gang members like their a lower race of people (“you people”) who just happen to be non-white. The victims of violence in this film, whether from the police, themselves, Foster himself or almost anyone is non-white. The only exception is the neo-Nazi and Foster doesn’t so much seem to care what he thinks or believes as long as he doesn’t get in his way.
Which is kind of the whole problem with most libertarians, as a brief tangent. Everything is fine and dandy so long as nothing gets physically in their way. There’s a lot to be said for indirect harm and externalities that cause us all pain such as pollution which, generally, contribute (or will contribute) to our suffering. Especially if you live in China or heck, even Salt Lake City USA is supposed to be a pretty bad part for breathing air at times.
This sort of mantra that, “Hey, if it doesn’t get in my way then it isn’t a real problem.” isn’t 1:1 with libertarianism but it’s a broad attitude I see far too often from people who (allegedly) subscribe to a philosophy that is trying to win the freedoms of individuals and not just certain collectives that can’t move as freely as they want.
The movie has some brief criticism of bureaucracy here and there which was…just okay, to be honest. Very surface level criticisms of unnecessary government programs that take up too much time and energy. A possibly even more subtle criticism at the beginning that showed that you need authority to make bureaucracy move.
Generally, the other major character is mostly unlikable as well. When he isn’t being pushed around by his wife, he is being mocked by his co-workers or yelling back at her as a way to “stay in charge”. The veins of this movie was filled to the brim with toxic masculinity in so many ways it’s hard to even know where to start, but the fact that the final part of this (yelling at his wife) is considered a character change in a (implicitly) positive move, is certainly something.
There are a few moments where the narrative of white people pretty much getting whatever they want (how much do you want a bet that Foster would’ve been caught much faster if he wasn’t white?), for example where a Japanese cop criticizes one of the main characters for being (basically) racist.
But moments like these, refreshing as they may be, are few and far between. For the most part, the movie is some sort of jarring action film that seems to take pleasure in making us as socially horrified as possible to get us to do…what?
What is even the larger message or point of the film?
No, really, I have no idea.
It isn’t as if the movie ends positively or ends in some distinctive way that tells us how to resist the oppression of every day life, the workplace and (most oppressive of all) Los Angeles heat waves.
In the end, the movie doesn’t give us much to work with.
No pun intended.
I didn’t really want to quit my job at the end.
I just want to stop watching Joel Schumacher films.
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35 days until Trump is inaugurated, be prepared.