Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling purports to be a very personal story, in which some scenes are lifted directly from his childhood. Though himself heterosexual, Mortensen co-stars as the gay liberal son John, who settles his increasingly senile and fiercely homophobic father (Lance Henriksen) into his home.
The focus is primarily on the father, as Mortensen explores generational divides in ideology and cultural attitudes, and how such differences impact familial bonds. It’s here that the film’s shortcomings are clear. Credit where credit is due, Henriksen is pitch-perfect in the role of the despicable father, operating with an appropriate intensity throughout, but repeated flashback scenes of the younger Willis (Sverrir Gudnason) and his late wife Gwen (Mindhunter star Hannah Gross) fail to give the character any more weight. It takes an absurdly long time for the story to evolve beyond the elderly co-lead repeating bigoted comments to John, his Chinese-American partner Eric (Terry Chen), and their Hispanic daughter Monica (Gabby Velis) – but perhaps extreme repetition is the point, to build an understanding of how awfully long it can take to reconcile love and hate.
Even less convincing is that all the people around Willis, including his estranged daughter Sarah (Laura Linney, brilliant in her short screen time), tolerate the relentless prejudice for as long as they do. At some point, the emotional impact is diminished and a dangerous subtext creeps in: must we continue to love and care for family members, even if they are horribly offensive at every step?
Falling‘s best moments, such as a dinner scene with Sarah, accurately capture the experience of living with a toxic relative, aptly illustrating the nuances in communication between both parties. However, the film veers from understated to melodrama too often. It’s all just too abrasive.
Falling is released nationwide on 4th December 2020.
Watch the trailer for Falling here: