35 years after his big screen debut, Viggo Mortensen steps behind the camera for his feature debut, in a story he also writes and stars in. He plays John, a pilot who lives in California with his husband Eric (Terry Chen) and daughter Monica (Gabby Velis).
His contented West Coast life is disrupted by the arrival of his father Willis (Lance Henricksen), an elderly conservative farmer who is suffering from dementia. He’s asked to come live near his son, but on arrival forgets this request and constantly battles John to try and leave. As he patiently tries to help his father, both men think back to their troubled family life on the farm, and the mistakes that haunt them both.
It’s a film with its heart in the right place, but unfortunately filled with scenes that seem so familiar. Henricksen spouting every racist and homophobic slur in the book as Mortensen winces and mutters “Jesus, Dad!” We’ve seen variations of this story in films like Nebraska, Little Miss Sunshine, Gran Torino, and many more.
While it is familiar, it’s executed with grace. Mortensen forgoes the usual tropes of gay couples on screen, presenting a happy family life that further exposes the absurdity of Willis’ bigotry. The flashbacks are told like patches of a dream, or perhaps nightmare. Sverrir Gudnason is interesting as the younger Willis, a new father with a drinking problem and unchecked aggression. In the present day, Laura Linney’s bright demeanour is perfect for Sarah, John’s sister who just wants to pretend everything is fine. Also, watch out for an out-of-nowhere cameo from David Cronenberg, Mortensen’s director on three films returning the favour by playing Willis’ doctor.
The bulk of the film is on Henricksen’s shoulders, with his piercing eyes filled with confusion and cruelty. There are a number of monologues that hint at the man he once was, as well as the pain and confusion of his condition. As hard as it is to feel sorry for a man who calls his son “fairy” over and over, his performance shows that family connections are often the messiest.
Falling is a simple story, told by a strong cast that make you feel for their predicament. However, a repetitive nature makes it indistinguishable from the raft of independent movies on the same subject.
Falling is released in cinemas and On Demand from 4th December