Fallen Review

by Scott Renshaw (renshaw AT inconnect DOT com)
January 15th, 1998

(Warner Bros.)
Starring: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz.
Screenplay: Nicholas Kazan.
Producers: Charles Roven and Dawn Steel
Director: Gregory Hoblit.
MPAA Rating: R (profanity, violence, adult themes)
Running Time: 124 minutes.
Reviewed by Scott Renshaw.

    FALLEN proves that if you want to evoke millennial dread, you can't just flirt with it -- you've got to embrace it. The supernatural thriller stars Denzel Washington as John Hobbes, a Philadelphia homicide detective whose greatest success -- the capture and subsequent execution of serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas) -- is about to turn into his greatest challenge. It seems that a copycat is on the loose, committing murders with Reese's m.o. and leaving teasing clues for Hobbes. Is the new killer a former accomplice of Reese? Is a rogue cop involved? Or is the truth even more sinister, that the same dark spirit which drove Reese to kill can migrate to other human hosts?

    Along to help answer those questions are John Goodman as Hobbes' loyal partner, Donald Sutherland as his uptight lieutenant and Embeth Davidtz as a theology professor. All are talented performers who acquit themselves admirably, but not not a one of them has much to work with in Nicholas Kazan's script. The dialogue is certainly effective, particularly in its laconic familiarity of co-worker and familial interaction. The story simply doesn't create a single compelling character to anchor the narrative. That includes Hobbes, who remains a vaguely heroic cipher despite the work of consummate professional Washington. In fact, the only real spark of personality comes from the film's body-hopping villain, who occupies so many different characters that he provides more of a menacing general presence than a specific personality.

    Consequently, FALLEN becomes a thriller almost entirely of situation, that situation being the threat of a malevolent eternal entity. While Gregory Hoblit puts together a few unique and creepy moments, including a chase through a busy city street which becomes a psychic relay race, his approach to the material is disappointingly conventional. His tone is that of a slightly-gloomier-than-average crime drama, with filtered point-of-view shots used and over-used ass the only distinctive signal of a demonic presence. In short, it's just not all that disturbing, or even particularly creative in its approach to the subject of demons walking among us. Isolated moments build effective tension, but Hoblit and Kazan ultimately resort to the kind of obligatory "gotcha" climax which can leave an audience with the faint aftertaste of cleverness despite a general lack of substance. Like Hoblit's PRIMAL FEAR, FALLEN is a well-made and well-acted film which too often settles for the easy or obvious way to handle a situation. When that situation involves the vengeful soul of an ageless fallen angel, you should hope for a bit more than gunplay and the crooning of Rolling Stones tunes.

    On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 fallen angles: 5.

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