Falling (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Viggo Mortensen, Canada/UK/Denmark, 2020, 112 mins

Cast:  Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen, Sverrir Gudnason

Review by Carol Allen

Viggo Mortensen, who makes his feature film writing and directing debut here, was inspired to make the film by memories of his relationship with his own late father.

Mortensen co-stars as John, a gay man married to Eric (Terry Chen) with whom he has an adopted daughter Monica (Gabby Velis).  Their very contemporary California lifestyle couldn’t be more different from John’s upbringing on an isolated rural farm, where his father Willis (Lance Erikson) still lives.  And when John brings Willis, who is the early stages of dementia, to stay with him with the intention of finding him a suitable new home near John and his sister Sarah (Laura Linney), the tensions and conflicts from the past resurface in spades.

Mortensen has unselfishly given the star part to Willis.  As John, apart from one scene where his character finally loses his cool, he spends most of the film wearing an expression of pained patience.  Because Willis is a nightmare, who would try the patience of a saint.  He is breathtakingly homophobic for a start, so regards his son’s lifestyle with contempt and has no inhibitions about saying so.  He also smokes continuously – in California! – and is also appallingly critical of Sarah and her teenage children.   Erikson plays the role to the hilt giving a virtuoso performance, which somehow despite the character’s behaviour gains our sympathy.

A lot of our understanding of him though comes from the lavish and skilful use of flashbacks in the story telling – the often confused memories of Willis in his dementia and the often bitter ones of John.   Sverrir Gudnason plays Willis, first as a young man, deeply in love with his wife Gwen (Hannah Gross) and their beautiful first born baby son John.  But as Willis’s controlling nature turns to bullying and the marriage starts to disintegrate and later, after Gwen has left him and he has awkward “visiting rights” encounters with his two estranged children, we begin to see how and why Willis has become the monstrous old sod that he now is. 

Gudnason is not only very good in the role, he has a distinct resemblance to Mortensen, which makes him good casting as the character’s father.  And there is one very touching and almost wordless flashback towards the end of the film, when Willis has taken his young son deer hunting, which illuminates the deep feelings father and son still have for each other. 

Falling releases in UK cinemas on 4th December. For full screening information visit www.modernfilms.com.falling