Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Viggo Mortensen’s Toronto-made directorial debut follows a turbulent relationship between father and son. With Falling, Mortensen examines the strong bond between relatives even after they’ve become severed. The focus here is on the relationship between John (Mortensen) and his ill yet overtly profane father Willis (Lance Henriksen).
Early, the conflict starts with conservative Willis being forced to move from his rural farm to Los Angeles to be cared for. It’s a difficult decision for John to make. Willis physically and mentally-abused his wife, Gwen (Hannah Gross), while John was growing up. He also relentlessly spews sexist, racist and homophobic remarks. Despite being against his father’s hateful rhetoric, John decides to move Willis in with him, his husband and child.
Mortensen’s Film works. His Script is filled with familial conflict and tension. For example, scenes where John’s family are having or making dinner are filled with tender moments of affection. These moments are often challenged by Willis who figuratively has his hand on the trigger, aiming at his family’s happiness. Although this makes for complex, emotional scenes it creates an irredeemable character. Mortensen doesn’t give much room for the audience to sympathize with Willis. His repetitious hate speech causes our blood to boil. However, this might be Mortensen’s intension. If so, he’s succeeded.
John repeatedly forgives his father’s inexcusable insults. Even when Willis is degrading who John and his family are. This becomes problematic for the story because John is happily married to a man. There isn’t a clear explanation as to why he easily forgives his father’s repugnant insults. Unfortunately, it’s this gray area that’s not clearly explained which hinders the storyline.
The one thing about Willis that isn’t wrong is who’s playing him. Henriksen is a powerhouse as the ailing repugnant patriarch. He’s fully committed to each hideous line Willis spews. Mortensen turns-in a touching performance as a man torn between caring for a hurtful father and protecting his family from degradation. While not getting a lot of screen time, Gross manages to turn in an impactful performance as the endearing Gwen.
Falling screens at TIFF ’20 as follows:
Fri, Sep 11 4:30 pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sun, Sep 13 4:45 pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Mon, Sep 14 6 pm
Bell TV customer exclusive
Thu, Sep 17 6 pm
Bell Digital Cinema