It is incredibly hard to not be a fan of Viggo Mortensen, isn’t it? There isn’t a bad bone in his body and his range of work as an actor is unmatched by many. To a whole generation, of course, his is the heroic King Aragorn of Gondor in the battle of Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings but it’s his work with filmmakers like David Cronenberg , Matt Ross, Walter Salles and Peter Farrelly in the Oscar winning Green Book (yep, that’s still fact) that has many excited for whatever he does next.
What he has done is follow those collaborations and made his directorial debut with Falling, which he has also written and produced, a semi-autobiographical family drama of sorts that shows a new string to his bow and marks him as a fledging filmmaker to watch in his own right. Based on his experiences with his own parents who both suffer from dementia, Mortensen sets out to tell his story and theirs in this hard-hitting, unflinching but beautiful film which is mightily impressive.
Mortensen is John, who we meet collecting his conservative father Willis (Lance Henriksen) from Chicago to visit him and his family in Los Angeles. Domineering, dominating and unfiltered, Willis is the overbearing man of the house, ruling with an iron fist both mentally and physically. But while his venomous, fractured mind begins to deteriorate, John is pushed more than ever to try to help his father find some peace and, maybe, love for himself and those around him.
What rings true with Falling is that, while the film is a mainly fictional account of his upbringing, it is at times difficult to watch so what Mortensen has left out – or amplified – is all the more scary. But under his steady, gifted hand, he is able to make us feel both sides of the coin: unbearable tension and fear but also the underlying hope that maybe, all is not lost.
With flashbacks adding more depth to the story – though particularly jarring at times, causing the film to flow quite wildly – as we see what Willis was as a younger man (played with style by Sverrir Gudnason), Mortensen’s affection and forgiveness radiates from the screen, as both performer and creator. Seeing Henriksen back on the screen in such a manner, however, is the film’s real talking point because he is a revelation. Gruff, detestable, reclusive and utterly without filter, he revels in the murky nature of Willis whilst also bringing his obvious charm to the fore. He’s almost impossible to root for but in Henriksen’s hands, there always feels a chance of redemption under the dirty waters.
Drama | USA, 2020 | 15 | 4th December 2020 (UK) | Cinema, Digital HD | Modern Films | Dir.Viggo Mortensen | Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen, Sverrir Gudnason, Laura Linney, Terry Chen