Fallen Review

by Mark R Leeper (leeper AT mtgbcs DOT mt DOT lucent DOT com)
January 20th, 1998

    A film review by Mark R. Leeper

    Capsule: There are a whole lot of pieces of
    other films in FALLEN, a sort of a police
    corruption story with supernatural overtones.
    Denzel Washington plays a sharp police detective.
    He caught a serial killer and saw him executed but
    unfortunately execution seems to be only a minor
    setback for the killer, who after death seems to be passing his mode of operation to other killers. In spite of a few good moments, the script is only
    so-so, but the photography is very atmospheric and
    John Goodman turns a minor partner role into a real tour de force. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)

    Things are indeed rather dangerous for police homicide detective John Hobbes, played by Denzel Washington, who begins the film saying "Let me tell you about the time I almost died." Hobbes is the detective who caught the serial killer Edgar Reese (played by Elia Koteas). Reese seems mightily unconcerned to be heading into the gas chamber. Besides merrily singing "Time Is On My Side," he wildly shakes Washington's hand and babbles in some gibberish language. He may be the most cheerful soul who was ever strapped into this gas chamber and executed. Then in an unexplained shot we seem to see Reese's viewpoint rise from the body and settle into a guard. Reese's murder spree should be over. Unfortunately the killings stubbornly refuse to stop complete with Reese's particular trademarks. Hobbes and his partner Jonesy (John Goodman) have to figure out why. At the murder scenes now there start appearing for Hobbes clues left in the form of riddles. The clues seem to point at a previous case involving a policeman named Milano who turned murderer and eventually committed suicide. Hobbes wants to find out more about this case and questions the dead officer's daughter (Embeth Davidtz) who has since become a religious fanatic, surrounding herself with images of angels. Hobbes investigates the cabin that was the site of the Milano suicide and finds the name of a demon painted on the wall.

    Some aspects of this film are done very nicely. Tom Sigel's photography creates a nice somber mood of doom and dread. His previous work includes THE USUAL SUSPECTS and BLOOD AND WINE. Sigel creates a tone to his photography effectively. Nicholas Kazan has a good ear for dialog which director Gregory Hoblit brings out, most noticeable as Hobbes and Jonesy discuss the case. But the story is really a patching together of familiar ideas from other police thrillers and even some science fiction films. As is all too frequent in films, the real killer is much to anxious to strut his stuff and reveals much too much to the police. Presumably the killer wants to give the police a handicap to make the game more interesting for himself, rubbing their noses in the fact that they cannot stop him, but it is too common a device to advance the plot. Also too common are "false alarm" scenes intended to make the viewer jump. These touches in the script are signs of weak writing.

    Denzel Washington does a competent job here, but he brings nothing to his part any other capable actor could not have. On the positive side, there in nothing in the script that draws attention to the fact that the character is black. It is simply cast with a black man; it is not a black role. But Washington could have done a lot more with it. The real acting honors in this film go to John Goodman who takes the role of partner and invests it with real personality. Donald Sutherland is there being officious and just slightly sinister, a role that he can manage in his sleep. Embeth Davidtz gives her character a certain vulnerable courage. Davidtz formerly played Helen Hirsch in SCHINDLER'S LIST and has understandably not found a role of such substance since.

    FALLEN is something of a hybrid film which probably falls more into the camp of the horror film than that of the police drama, though it rarely approaches anything really frightening. One very nice sequence has the killer demonstrating his abilities to Hobbes through the use of innocent bystanders. It is perhaps the most effective scene of the film, giving the homicide detective and the viewer a feel for how difficult the killer will be to catch. Not everything in this film works as well as it might, but FALLEN does build to a nice keep-em- guessing finale. I rate this film a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Mark R. Leeper
[email protected]
Copyright 1998 Mark R. Leeper

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