- Emma Simmonds
- 1 December 2020
Lance Henriksen is impressively horrible in Viggo Mortensen's directorial debut
'I'm sorry I brought you into this world so you could die,' a father tells his infant son at the outset of a film made up of many such episodes of spirit-crushing negativity. Written and directed by one of its stars, Viggo Mortensen, in his feature debut, Falling might not be much of a laugh, but it works well as a showcase for the dramatic chops of Lance Henriksen, the genre film stalwart of reliable gravitas, who has probably been underexploited by more serious-minded cinema over the years.
Henriksen is compellingly horrible as the elderly Willis, a furiously misogynistic and bigoted farmer, who has spent much of his life making others miserable and is now well into what appears to be the ravages of dementia. He's seen two wives come and go (played by Hannah Gross and Bracken Burns) and is being assisted in his health struggles by his devoted son John (Mortensen), who lives with his husband Eric (Terry Chen) and daughter Mönica (Gabby Velis) in California. They are trying to relocate the bitter and confused Willis to a property nearby and are coming up against severely mixed messages, alongside a torrent of homophobic abuse.
As a younger man, Willis is played by Sverrir Gudnason (a Swedish actor best known as Björn Borg in Borg McEnroe), who also puts in good work. Gudnason takes over in the frequent flashbacks, which intrude a bit frustratingly at first, but which effectively mirror the experience of a character living partially in the past. The film is stunningly shot by Marcel Zyskind, whose camera shows great sensitivity to the suffering and makes Henriksen's deeply lined face into a work of art, picking out the fear and sadness amid the hate in this most detailed of performances.
There's undoubted realism in the depiction of the disease and in the hold a difficult character can continue to exert over their kin. However, the repetitious nature of Willis's eye-wateringly offensive outbursts and the sheer amount of verbal abuse on display can make this feel like quite a sadistic watch – and it's hard not to continuously will his family to walk away. And although he has his own impressive meltdown in the offing, Mortensen's John feels rather blank, beyond his saintly patience and self-restraint. In Willis's cruel and futile raging at a world he no longer understands, he embodies a certain generation's toxic and still pervasive version of masculinity; with all the keeping schtum around him, it can be torturous seeing how much of that some people are able to endure.
Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 4 Dec.