Falling (2020)

Director: Viggo Mortensen
Writer: Viggo Mortensen
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen, Sverrir Gudnason, Laura Linney, Hannah Gross, Terry Chen, Gabby Velis, David Cronenberg, Henry Mortensen
Part of: surprise movie at the Viennale
Seen on: 26.10.2020

Content Note: domestic violence/abuse, sexism, homomisia, racism

John (Viggo Mortensen) is bringing his father Willis (Lance Henriksen) to his home, where his husband Eric (Terry Chen) and their daughter (Gabby Velis) are waiting for them. Willis has trouble remembering things, adding another thing that complicates the father-son relationship. Having Willis over certainly makes John reflect on what it was like growing up with the younger Willis (Sverrir Gudnason) and his mother Gwen (Hannah Gross). And the question remains: can the two find a way to bridge the chasm between them.

Falling is Mortensen’s directorical debut – and it certainly doesn’t feel like a debut, it is so self-assured. But I have a hard time getting excited about what feels like the billionth film about a man working out his daddy issues.

The film poster showing a boy cradling a dead duck. A man is standing behind him with his hand on the boy's shoulder. They are standing in front of a flowery wallpaper.

Willis is a very difficult character. He is abusive and he constantly spouts the most sexist and homomisic shit, supplemented by (surprisingly few) racist remarks. He is aggressive and not just since his dementia set in. He is simply an all-around asshole. It’s no wonder that his children don’t really know how to deal with him, and aren’t even sure that they want to.

But of course, even an asshole dad is still a dad and he does have his nice moments, so it’s equally understandable that John and his sister Sarah (Laura Linney) can’t just write him off entirely. But for me, not being the daughter of Willis, I just didn’t care for a whole entire movie that is busy humanizing an abusive ass. Maybe if your father is more like Willis, it is different.

Willis (Sverrir Gudnason) going duck hunting with his son.

At least the film is honest enough that it doesn’t pretend that the few nice moments that Willis had with John somehow make up for all the shitty things. We see the pain that Willis spreads around him constantly. And that pain is certainly acknowledged, speaking to the overall quality of the script.

Generally speaking, the film is really well done. The cast is fantastic, with Laura Linney and Terry Chen in their small roles absolute highlights (sidenote: shout out to the casting – when we first see Sverrir Gudnason, I thought he was Viggo Mortensen – and that was before I realized I was seeing a film with Mortensen in it – the beauty of surprise movies). I can’t fault Mortensen with making a bad movie. The film just didn’t speak to me.

John (Viggo Mortensen) fighting with his elderly father Willis (Lance Henriksen).

Summarizing: well.

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