VOD REVIEW: Fraught, emotional Falling is a formidable debut from Mortensen

This review first appeared in September 2020 as part of the FIN Stream festival coverage

Whatever demons Viggo Mortensen had to exercise, his directorial debut Falling has definitely dealt with his — and some of the audience’s — daddy issues by the end.

Mortensen pulls triple duty here, playing lead John, and he’s directed a steady, tonally difficult feature from his own intense, cathartic script. It’s a wonder of first-time filmmaking, and one that’s unforgettable, at the very least.

Mortensen’s John is an adult gay man living with his husband Eric (Terry Chen) and daughter in California. Their carefree existence is catapulted into chaos when he must bring his abusive, homophobic, womanizing father to town as the aging man’s Alzheimers worsens.

The father, played with more brutality than I’ve seen onscreen since J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, is a horrid human being. Character actor Lance Henriksen gets the role of the lifetime as bastard, rage-filled Willis, a man who hates everyone around him, even if he can’t remember half of the current circumstances they’re in.

Mortensen plays John with a collected, cool patience unlike anything I’ve seen from him before. So when he does have eventual outbursts of emotion, they hit with a resounding sensitivity. He’s in stark contrast to Henriksen’s completely unhinged performance, in a role where he can’t seem to shut his mouth long enough for us to feel any empathy.

Henriksen is Oscar-worthy, and Mortensen is more resonant and captivating than he’s been in years. Even Laura Linney’s small supporting turn as John’s sister, willing to make 1,000 excuses for her daddy even as he ruins family dinner and berates his grandchildren, will make you want to go through the screen and just hug her.

What Falling does achieve best, though, is it makes us question our own relationships with family, how we connect with them, how we developed into who we are, and how we diverge from the people who raised us in the end.

It’s a meditation on the question of whether blood runs thicker than anything else, regardless of trauma, past and circumstance. I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but watch out. Falling may just leave you speechless.

4.5/5 Stars

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