One of the finest actors working today, Viggo Mortensen’s on-screen legacy is secured with his role in The Lord of the Rings – but with his work on Falling, more strings are added to his bow. Writing, directing and producing the moving drama as well as starring, this compelling film is a mesmerising vehicle for his many talents.
Falling follows John Peterson (Mortensen), a middle-aged gay man whose conservative, homophobic and all-round abrasive father Willis (Lance Henriksen) begins to exhibit signs of dementia, forcing him to abandon his fiercely independent lifestyle and move to Los Angeles to be nearer his son and daughter (Laura Linney). The film deftly tackles the usual themes of age and forgiveness, but despite a mostly solid execution, the melodramatic Falling fails to stand out from the pack in a crowded genre. There is little here that hasn’t been seen a hundred times before, an often with a stronger execution.
With a largely quiet and understated performance from Mortensen, Falling belongs to the masterful performance from Henriksen. As the bitter and downright unlikeable Willis, Henriken delivers his finest work in years as a truly vile and unforgivable individual. While the film does occasionally attempt to inject some redemption into his role through flashbacks, it is fruitless – Willis is just a horrible person, and Henriksen absolutely nails it. A solid supporting cast including Terry Chen as Mortensen’s character’s husband and a pleasing cameo from the legendary David Cronenberg (who directed Mortensen in Eastern Promises, A History of Violence and the underrated A Dangerous Method) certainly all deliver, but nobody comes close to Henriksen’s vile performance.
But while many other films dealing with these themes might work toward some sort of redemption or feel-good inspirational ending, Falling is a bleak and depressing drama that often feels repetitive in its gruelling scenes of Willis spewing his vitriolic hatred and bile, and his son’s saint-like patience. It seems to go around in circles, in a messy and uneven delivery that threatens to derail the film throughout.
As a directorial debut, though, Falling shows a lot of promise in Mortensen behind the camera. The film is deeply flawed, but it is earnest with its heart in the right place, and the moments that work are terrific. It’s just a shame they’re sandwiched between repetitive and dull soap-like melodrama. Still, stunning performances – particularly from the great Lance Henriksen – more than make up for Falling’s narrative missteps.