To scan through a CV which is, to put it mildly, dizzyingly eclectic, you’d likely have a tough time guessing what type of film the actor Viggo Mortensen might make were he to step behind the camera. Toss in all his well-documented supplementary interests, such as music, poetry, football, painting and photography, and it’s tough to get a handle on which way this thing might go.

The biggest shock of Falling, Mortensen’s debut as writer and director, is just how careful, wistful and traditionally dramatic it is. There’s no experimentation, no sense that he’s trying to prove himself as an image maker, or peacocking with unnecessary literary flourishes in the script. This is stripped-back, robust, observational filmmaking that dares to allow a scene to be more than just a container for key information. It also allows characters to exist in that liminal space between antagonism and empathy, rather than packing them off on a formulaic journey from one to the other.

To put it more bluntly, Falling is a deeply unfashionable film, but it’s unfashionable in the same way that a Clint Eastwood film is unfashionable – i.e., it still manages to exude a sense of hand-tooled quality. The star here is Lance Henriksen who plays aggressively cantankerous patriarch Willis – and it’s great to see this perennial genre movie bit-parter finally given a part to sink his teeth into.

Willis’ application of strict conservative principles during his formative rural home life have led to inevitable humiliation in his twilight years, as he’s so hardwired to a certain unreconstructed mindset that everyone and everything just seems to sicken him. He’s starting to lose his marbles and isn’t able to care for himself, so his son John (Mortensen) gathers him up and carts him to Los Angeles for a spell, where he must put up with progressive liberal types forcing their alternative lifestyles in his face. John, for instance, is gay, but has become immune to his father’s perpetual taunts. He has purged any notion of self-hatred from his heart, and is able to live a life of moral self-righteousness without ever feeling guilty about it.

The title of the film suggests a fall from grace, but for Willis it’s more like a fall from arrogance to ignominy. This is about the power that a conservative father assumes and wields, and how time causes that power to diminish and, eventually, disappear. He tilts at windmills as those around him smile with pity in the knowledge that salvation is perhaps possible, but definitely not worth all the elbow grease. That his mind isn’t what it was and his body is slowly ailing serves as a metaphor for a regressive attitude that has calcified in his bones – a rejection of the restorative qualities of love, regret and common sense which he steadfastly refuses to embrace.

It’s an easy film to find fault with and it’s earnest to a tee, yet Mortensen is digging at something complex and elusive in a way that is satisfyingly simple, direct and clear-eyed. His own performance arrives with no studied bells and whistles, while his shooting style does little to disrupt from the heavy lifting being done by performance and script. Perhaps its biggest plus point is that it gives us a jumbo-sized asshole like Willis, whose entire life has been powered by hate and venality, and dares to ask: how can you not empathise with this tragic lug?


Debuted at the Sundance Film Festival where critics were not that kind to it.


Feels alienatingly traditional at points, but digs deep into some murky emotional terrain.


A vituperative central turn from Henriksen is worth the price of admission.


Directed by

Viggo Mortensen


Viggo Mortensen,

Lance Henriksen,

Sverrir Gudnason

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