Cinematic Releases: Falling (2020) - Reviewed

Viggo Mortensen, it goes without saying, is one of our generation’s greatest actors.  One of those actors whose presence in a film can elevate a picture significantly, the multiple Oscar nominated performer comes to us now with his first foray into writing and filmmaking with his directorial debut and labor of love Falling.  Semi-autobiographical in size and focus, Mortensen also stars as John Peterson, a middle-aged gay man living with his husband Eric (Terry Chen) and adopted daughter Monica in California.  Willis Peterson (Lance Henriksen), John’s old fashioned and short-tempered father living in upstate New York, begins to exhibit signs of early dementia.  Alerted to his declining health, John intervenes by bringing his father back to California with him, but not the angry old man puts up an endless and increasingly mean fight over it.

At times difficult to watch the loyal and caring son John take so much abuse from his cantankerous father Willis, Falling can be an immensely affecting drama to take in.  This is due in large part to an astonishing central performance from Lance Henriksen who has always been a great character actor over the last few decades who completely comes into his own here.  It’s a raw, embittered, frightening performance to be in the presence of as Henriksen conjures up darker weathers I never knew the actor had.  In addition to being a great actor, Viggo Mortensen proves to be an assured writer-director as well with visual composition both precise and painterly.  Mortensen also composes the film’s original score which throws a quiet, somber mood over the proceedings. 
Mortensen, a longtime friend and collaborator with writer-director David Cronenberg, not only uses the director in a choice cameo appearance mid-picture but also many of the director’s collaborators as well.  Edited sharply by longtime Cronenberg editor Ronald Sanders with casting director Diedre Bowen on board as well, Mortensen utilizes a good chunk of Cronenberg’s entourage.  Knowing the director’s history with Mortensen in three career best performances in A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method, seeing him come on board with Mortensen’s film was a most exciting surprise.

For anyone who has or had a difficult parent in their lives, Falling will hit close to home and can occasionally be hard to take.  The performances across the board, however, coupled with Mortensen’s own gifts for filmmaking make for a compelling drama that absolutely brings the struggle between parent and caring child to life.  While there have been dramas about dealing with a parent’s aging and physical as well as psychological deterioration, few resonate quite as strongly as this one with Henriksen giving what is obviously the performance of his career.  Hard and heavy viewing but in the end a most rewarding experience and a good start at first time film directing for Mortensen.

--Andrew Kotwicki