Drama

Falling

Guided by Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henricksen is profoundly excellent as the mean dad.

Viggo Mortensen makes this directorial debut of “Falling,” and both he and Lance Henriksen star in father-son roles, although in real life, they’re 18 years apart from each other. Mortensen is the homosexual Air Force pilot John Peterson, married to the doctor Eric (Terry Chen) with an adoptive daughter named Monica (Gabbu Velis), and Henriksen is his aging father Willis, who mind begins to decline.

Henriksen’s performance is explosive, as he’s able to play a mean, homophobic, and misogynist father with the greatest of ease. And Mortensen does some good work in front of and behind the camera, when his character tries to take care of his father, and when he develops them with various moods and tones, and lots and lots of emotions. Let’s not forget about that.

In the movie, Willis forgets his ex-wife Gwen (Hannah Gross) is dead, wanders off, and responds with homophobic slurs against his son. The reason the old man came from his rural farm to LA where John lives now is because he says he wanted to live next to him. At least that’s what John says, while down there, he tells him he lates the LA world. I think it’s his fading mind talking.

Laura Linney co-stars as his daughter Sarah, who tries to keep everyone calm at the dinner table, but we can tell she’s as miserable as the rest of them. The father just keeps going and going, and calls his grandson Will (Piers Bijvoet) a “fag” for having his hair dyed blue. The movie also jumps back to the past when we see Willis (Sverrir Gudnason) developing into an abusive prick affecting his wife and kids, and the rest of the movie features the tense relationship between him and John. I’m not kidding, their fight scene is gorgeously filmed and well-acted.

At times, the old man does shows some love and affection for both John and Monica. When the boy is a teenager and can’t shoot a duck on a hunting trip, the old man tells him “it’s okay.” And he does connect well with Monica during his visit, and even gives her his chain watch. So, this is proof he isn’t a completely evil person.

A few weaknesses of the film include how Linney’s side is underdeveloped, and how the past isn’t as powerful as the present. But most of “Falling” is gripping for all the right reasons I’ve mentioned. It’s mostly because of Henriksen’s performance, Hendrickson’s acting, writing, and directing, and the depth and emotions inside them both. Even Gudnason does some fresh work as the young Willis, and at each time, I keep thinking he looks like a younger Mortensen.

This has the kind of rocky relationship between a mean parent and a smart son that I looked for and missed in Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy.” Unlike that movie, “Falling” isn’t consumed by the yelling and screaming, but allows us to see these people are human beings with qualities and difficulties. The qualities being John as a good man, and the difficulties being him trying to keep his father on track. It’s not irritating or meandering; it’s an impressive filmmaking debut for Mortensen.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Premieres on AppleTV+ This Friday

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