Sunday, May 30, 2010

A review of Richard Dutcher's Falling

This review of cult filmmaker Richard Dutcher's Falling was originally published in the Standard-Examiner. I'm a fan of Dutcher but not particularly of this film. I am eager to see Evil Angel, his first foray into horror. I'm posting this review as my contribution to a debate that publisher/writer Christopher Bigelow has initiated on Dutcher on his blog here

Hed: Talented director Dutcher’s ‘Falling’ is an indulgent, violent misfire

By Doug Gibson

“It’s just a crappy independent movie. No one will ever see it.”
— Ambitious actress Davey Boyle, in Richard Dutcher’s new film, “Falling.”

The above quote may be slightly paraphrased, but it sums up the nothingness of talented Richard Dutcher’s new film. “Fallen” is an indulgent mess. It is an incomprehensible ego trip for the creator of “God’s Army,” “Brigham City” and “States of Grace,” all marvelous films. Each film displayed Dutcher’s maturity, as he improved his craft.
“Fallen” is unrelentingly bleak, picture writer Annie Proulx at her grimmest but without the artistry. Videographer Eric Boyle (Dutcher) — a lapsed Mormon — defines angst. He wants to be a filmmaker, but settles for quick cash filming auto wrecks and crime scenes for a TV news station. His wife, Davey (Virginia Reece) is a beautiful, ambitious aspiring actress. She sleeps around with predatory producers. We know both are tortured souls because they stare deeply through windows and frown a lot.
On the same day, Eric and Davey get lucky. He covertly films a murder and sells it for $20,000. She wins the lead in an independent feature film. Unfortunately, the murder suspects Eric filmed are on the lam, and they begin a bloody trek of assault and murder that eventually leads to Davey and Eric. Before that happens, a misunderstood pregnancy test will destroy Eric and Davey’s fragile relationship and lead Eric to violence that rivals today’s cinema torture porn..
“Fallen” is not all bad. Dutcher’s direction moves the film swiftly and the cinematography — grainy and bright — accurately captures how grimy and sweaty Los Angeles can be if you are running from place to place. Dutcher and Reece are talented actors. I liked Dutcher’s Eric trying to reconnect to his childhood spirituality on the Los Angeles LDS temple grounds. And Reece, who resembles a younger Jennifer Aniston, has attractive screen presence.
For an hour or so, “Fallen” is a semi-interesting, overly emotional tale of one man’s spiritual crisis and slowly decaying marriage. But the last half hour destroys “Fallen” and lowers it to derision. It’s like the late Sam Peckinpah snatched direction from Dutcher and screamed, “Give me blood, and bloody tooths, smashed skulls and shotgun blasts!”
And bloody defines the final reel of “Fallen.” The “climatic” battle between Eric and a stereotypical gang member lasts so long and is so violent and gory that it descends into camp. Viewers will either avert their eyes, giggle, or do both. The grunts and screams recall the intentionally hilarious overlong street fight wrestler Roddy Piper engaged in with a co-star in the ‘80s cult film “They Live.”
There’s no decipherable theme to all this gore, except maybe Eric’s middle finger, thrust angrily upward toward God near the film’s end. I have no objections to that theme, just a wish that it was delivered at a maturity level beyond that of a college freshman.
More than just the finale hampers “Fallen,” though. It is a dishonest film. It strains credulity so far as to wonder if the film is intentional stream of consciousness. Take Eric’s filming of a murder that is played to great fanfare on local TV news. The reality is no mainstream TV news organization would air what amounts to a snuff film. Wouldn’t happen.
Also, the avenging gang members in “Fallen” can seemingly flit through L.A. leaving an easily identifiable trail of murder ... without serious notice from the cops. In “Fallen,” cops and witnesses barely exist. And Eric’s transformation from angst-ridden soul to wife batterer to killing machine is hampered by a script so weak it leads him and Davey to an unconvincing, violent marital dispute.
Candor has been so prevalent in Dutcher’s films. The scene in “God’s Army,” where a missionary who lost his faith silences an outraged missionary by asking why he believes is the most brutally honest scene Dutcher has filmed. It reveals what returned missionaries never tell us in sacrament meeting: That missions are brutal endurance tests, with perseverance a more valued trait than faith, especially in the beginning.
But “Fallen” takes too many liberties with reality to be honest. Man suffers angst. Man goes crazy. That’s about it. I hope Dutcher got whatever he needed out of his system with “Fallen.” His next project is “Evil Angel,” a mainstream horror film starring Ving Rhames. I look forward to a Dutcher film that goes well with popcorn.
Gibson is the Standard-Examiner’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at

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