Authors are encouraged to “write what you know.” Directors must be, too.
How else can you explain Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut, “Falling”?
Dark, upsetting and often foreboding, the drama contains moments that are so heartbreaking only someone who had been through them could find their essence.
Like “The Father,” another “children as parents” film about dementia, “Falling” shows how abrasive one man can be. Fighting his son at every turn, he knows he can’t continue to live on the family farm but he doesn’t want the decision to be made by others. So, he lashes out.
Since his son (played by Mortensen) is a married gay liberal living in California, there are plenty of hurtful words he finds to use. The son, however, takes it, knowing he’s acting in his father’s best interests.
Through flashbacks, Mortensen shows what the relationship was once like. He also introduces us to the parents. Because the actor who plays his father (Sverrir Gudnason) looks so much like Mortensen, it’s frequently hard to determine who’s who. Better editing could have produced a stronger divide.
Still, the moments with Mortensen (as John Peterson) and Lance Henriksen (as his father, Willis Peterson) crackle. Dad slings pointed comments everywhere and son is left to pick up the pieces. He badmouths John’s husband, takes after his grandchildren.
Laura Linney (as John’s sister, Sarah) tries to deflect, changing the conversation and pretending the world isn’t collapsing. It doesn’t always work.
Mortensen says he was prompted to write “Falling” first as a short story, then a film, after his mother died and he started remembering things she had said. After his father died, he found a way into the story.
While Mortensen and Linney are satellites to Henriksen, they have a way of holding their own on screen. It’s amazing how much “Falling” can nudge glimpses of good and bad times.
As a director, Mortensen shows great skill. He crafts characters in a way that doesn’t demean them but justifies their actions under extreme circumstances.
“Falling” isn’t an easy film to watch – it doesn’t have the random humor of “The Father” – but it does remind us of time we might have forgotten.
It’s an interesting first directorial choice. But it’s also proof there’s much Mortensen can mine. He’s not just a great actor. He’s a director with great promise.