At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Fallen “98”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Fallen “98”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Supernatural Thriller/Stars: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz, James Gandolfini, Elias Koteas, Gabriel Casseus, Michael J. Pagan, Robert Joy, Aida Turturro, Cress Williams/Runtime: 124 minutes

I think it can safely be said that, for the majority of people out there, the world around us is one that is both easy to understand and comprehend in equal measure. Indeed you see a dog chasing a cat you can easily deduce that the dog doesn’t like the cat. Likewise, if you see a mother chasing a child around a store at the mall or even at the grocery store, it might be a pretty safe bet to make that the child in question did something seriously wrong and is about to be on the receiving end of a pretty hefty butt whooping either when caught or at home away from the prying eyes of the public at large. Along with that, you can see that when the crime of murder, robbery, arson, etc. is committed against a person by someone else I think you can easily (and quite often rightly) make the assumption that, should the evidence prove the suspect committed the crime, we as people aren’t really as good of heart or spirit as we should be to our fellow human beings. In other words, barring time-honored examples such as the existence of the DMV, the high price for a cup of Starbucks, why an airline would allow overbooking to continue to be a viable business practice, the phenomenon known as traffic, the day of the week that is Monday, or why even certain movies get made in the first place among other examples that could be mentioned, there really is no evidence that could lead one to strongly suspect let alone deduce that there might possibly be more sinister forces which could be at work amongst us with the end goal in mind of destroying us all (though let’s face it: we all know Mondays were invented by the governments of the world to test the limits of humanity’s collective sanity as a species.). Yet what if by some cosmic fluke, a case of divine intervention, or whathaveyou a fairly skilled member of the law enforcement community was inadvertently able to discover that perhaps not every crime is the work of a human being or even humanity to begin with, but rather a more sinister and infinitely older force of wickedness yet in so doing put himself on a collision course with the evil force in question? Indeed in case you hadn’t put two and ten together yet dear reader it is that very concept that was at the heart of a 1998 film, and slice of cinema I happen to be reviewing for you today incidentally, known as Fallen and which is also one that puzzles me a fair bit. Not because it’s overly complicated or anything, but rather because I don’t understand how in the world this film only has a 40% on Rotten Tomatoes to say nothing of only grossing 25.2 million against a 46-million-dollar budget. I mean to be sure, it’s not a perfect film by any stretch, but with the aid of capable work on both sides of the camera I definitely feel that this is one movie that is both vastly underrated to say nothing of definitely one that fans of crime thrillers, horror cinema, or both should at the very least check out once.

The plot is as follows: Taking us into the woods of Pennsylvania, Fallen gets its spine-tingling story underway on a rather unusual sight. That being of a man scrambling around the snow-drenched woods acting very much like the dictionary definition of a madman before promptly collapsing face first into the snow. From there, the film takes us not only into the city of Philadelphia, but back a stretch of time as well in order to introduce us to the man, who also happens to be our protagonist, properly. It seems his name is John Hobbes and he is a fairly distinguished member of that noteworthy organization known as Philadelphia P.D. He is also someone who has just recently captured a somewhat noted serial killer by the name of Edgar Reese and, when our story gets underway proper, is outside the prison where Reese is being held on death row because he is due to be executed that night. Unlike some inmates who find themselves facing the fact that their life is about to be extinguished in a few short hours, we soon see that Reese is neither terrified out of his skull nor is he even a degree remorseful for his actions. Rather, he is very much lively and upbeat especially when Hobbes meets with him one last time with perhaps the only things worthy of note that he does during their final meeting being not only the utterance of a rather scornful monologue, but also a desire to hold our hero’s hand at one point. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that shortly thereafter Reese bites the big one so to speak and it looks like a win for our hero and the police to say nothing of peace for a fair amount of time for the good people of Townsville ehh Philadelphia. Suffice it to say then that in most other films this would be the ending of our story and maybe a well-deserved one at that. Unfortunately, this is not the ending here. Rather, it is only the beginning. This is because it isn’t long thereafter that we see our intrepid hero and his friend/partner on the force Jonesy called to a collection of rather disturbing homicides. Homicides that, despite the differences between the victims, all do have one thing in common. That being that they all are eerily reminiscent of the ones that Reese engaged in before his capture and subsequent execution. Yet, despite their assumption that this is just merely the work of a deranged copycat killer, it doesn’t take much before we see a trail of evidence starts to lead Hobbes down a vastly different road. One that will not only call into question everything he knows and put all of his skill as a cop to the test, but which will also put him on a first name basis with, to say nothing of engaged in conflict against, an evil dastardlier and deadlier than anything he has ever encountered before….

Now right off, it should be said that the work done behind the camera on this particular creepy slice of cinema might not be flawless by any measure, but is still more than fairly solid all the same. This starts with the work done in the director’s chair by Gregory Hoblit and, while not his finest cinematic hour (an honor I still bestow on 1996’s Primal Fear), this is still a vastly enjoyable effort on his part. Indeed perhaps the key thing that Hoblit is able to do so well here is take the two distinct genres of film noir and supernatural horror respectively and proceed to blend them together in an effective manner that permits him to once again focus on the concept of unflinching evil that can be present in a person as he did in Primal Fear before taking it in a different direction that the former could honestly have gone down, but chose not to. Along with that, this slice of cinema also features a fairly well-written script as penned by one Nicholas Kazan. Indeed Kazan does a fantastic job here of, much like Hoblit, not only rooting the terror in a world that is incredibly realistic thus making the story one that feels believable, but also at ensuring that right from the word go the atmosphere is one that is an incredible mix of tense, spooky, ominous, and fairly intelligent to a fair degree. This slice of cinema also manages to feature some wonderfully chilling work from the cinematography department as headed by one Newton Thomas Sigel (1995’s The Usual Suspects, 2000’s X-Men, and 2003’s X2: X-Men United among others). Indeed not only does Sigel do a wonderful job of making the city of Philadelphia feel less like a modern locale and more in the vein of one you might see in a piece of gothic horror a’la Dracula, but he also does a brilliant job when it comes to a certain first-person perspective that he deploys at key moments throughout the story. Indeed not only does this perspective add a degree of anxiety-stricken terror to an already fear-drenched story, but it also permits this film to give a visual point of view to the evil that our main hero is engaged in combat against. Lastly, I definitely am of the belief that this section would be woefully incomplete if I didn’t take some time to praise the work done by Tan Dun (2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and 2002’s Hero) in terms of this slice of cinema’s musical accompaniment. Indeed not only does Dun’s score here mesh fairly well with the rest of the work done by his behind the counterparts, but it even manages to reinforce the creepy atmosphere prevalent throughout the film in its own right. Key amongst the ways in which it manages to do this is through the utilization of the song “Time Is On My Side” by The Rolling Stones. Indeed not only is the way in which the song is utilized within the narrative absolutely ingenious to say nothing of downright bone chilling in the best way possible, but it also manages to fit the bleak and diabolical stylings of the overall film fairly well. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in great work from the production and costume design teams plus the editing department as headed by one Lawrence Jordan, it’s clear that the team behind the camera knows the kind of movie they’re making and, despite a few hiccups here and there are all able to put a fairly good step forward and give us one that is most assuredly more than capably made.

Alongside the capable work done behind the camera, this slice of cinema is also one that benefits immensely from the equally as capable work done in front of the camera by an extremely well-chosen cast of talent even if some are a bit on the underwritten side. Without a doubt in my mind, this starts with screen icon Denzel Washington in the lead role and, big surprise coming up here, he’s really good here. Indeed in the role of John Hobbes, this slice of cinema most assuredly required someone who had both gravitas to say nothing of a screen presence that would make them a hero worth following to say nothing of root for and the movie definitely delivers that with the casting of Washington here. Indeed not only does Washington bring to the role a dogged determination and his trademark dignity/likability to the part, but he also effectively showcases us for the slow yet steady rise in fear that can be present in someone who is very much unsure what to make of this nightmarish situation he is a part of only to find that he must overcome the degree of inherent skepticism in his profession should he wish to have a fighting chance at coming out the victor in this deadly cat and mouse game he has inadvertently stumbled into against evil in one of its purest forms. Suffice it to say it’s definitely a terrific performance to say nothing one of the more underrated efforts present on Washington’s resume as one of the best performers of his (or any) generation. Alongside the top-flight work done by Washington, this film also gives us a wonderful support performance from the always enjoyable John Goodman in the role of Hobbes’ loyal partner/friend Jonesy. Indeed Goodman is another one of that rare breed of actor who I have yet to see give a truly bad performance and here he does a great job at giving his character not only a sense of genuine friendship with Washington’s character, but also showcasing for us at several points an intriguing perspective on things (especially in one interaction shared between him and Hobbes late in the movie) that you might not expect from a character that in another movie would’ve just been the typical “sidekick”. Suffice it to say it’s quite the multifaceted turn and one that Goodman plays incredibly well. Alongside Washington and Goodman, this slice of cinema also features a great, yet perhaps a bit underwritten, performance from the late screen legend Donald Sutherland in the role of their boss Lt. Stanton. Yes, it feels like perhaps there was more to this character than what we get here, but even so there is no denying that Sutherland does a great job at giving this character the typical strict and by the book demeanor whilst also giving him flashes of humanity and even a bit of enigma to him that really makes us, along with Hobbes, never entirely sure quite what to make of him. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in solid efforts from the late yet terrific James Gandolfini, Embeth Davidtz (even if her role serves more as a deliverer of exposition at points than anything), and a brief yet highly impactful turn from Elias Koteas among others it’s clear that the film might not be perfect, but the work done in front of the camera still manages to deliver the goods and then some all the same.

All in all and at the end of the day is Fallen from 1998 a perfect and flawless film by any stretch of the imagination? Sadly no, but honestly that’s ok because I don’t feel like this was a film that was really aiming to achieve that particular cinematic benchmark. With that in mind, is this slice of cinema one that’s anywhere close to being as bad as its performance at the box office to say nothing of its 40% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes would suggest that it is? I can say with absolute certainty that is most assuredly not the case either though in all fairness everyone is entitled to their own opinion. To be sure, and as stated previously, this slice of cinema might not be perfect, but that still doesn’t take away from both how much I really do dig the heck out of it to say nothing of just how solid of a watch it actually is. Indeed the work done behind the camera does a fairly well done job at not only combining both genres of movie magic that this film is choosing to operating with in the forms of noir and horror respectively, but then immersing us into the world of the film in such a way that we are fairly consistently left intrigued as to where it might go next whilst also ensuring that our spine is tingling and we are gripping the arm rests on our chair to such an extent that don’t be surprised if you actually dig up some of the stuffing within the chair despite the presence of a few cinematic potholes along the way. As for the work in front of the camera, it too is fairly well-done as every single cast member (with particular regard to the performances given by Washington, Goodman, Sutherland, and Koteas respectively) all manage to give us as an audience some truly impeccable work here no matter how big or small their overall amount of screentime in the grand scheme of the narrative may be even if quite a few of the characters are fairly underwritten in all honesty. Suffice it to say then that if you are looking for a superb supernatural crime thriller that deals with some pretty dark elements and a bonafide gut punch of an ending then definitely check out Angel Heart. On the other hand, if you are looking for a underrated film that works within the same genres as Angel Heart yet doesn’t go nearly as graphic as that film did and perhaps a smidge less of the atmosphere whilst also taking place in the “present day” then give this film a try. Just make sure to be very careful about who is around when you do especially if they try to shake your hand while singing “Time Is on My Side”. Make of that what thou dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Fallen “98” a solid 3.5 out of 5.