Friday, November 25, 2011

Fallen (1998)


Denzel Washington is Detective John Hobbes, whose capture of notorious serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas) ultimately leads to Reese's execution.  However, after Reese's death, Hobbes uncovers a string of copycat crimes eerily similar to Reese's own brutal murders.  With the help of his partner (John Goodman) and a professor of theology (Embeth Davidtz), Hobbes must try to solve these mysterious crimes before he himself is accused . . .

The casting here is first rate.  Denzel is the honorable everyman, just like pretty much every other movie he's ever done.  Goodman is a great sounding board, buddy, and world-weary cop, Gandolfini is all too believable as a possibly-dirty-but-generally-good cop, and I suspect this is not Donald Sutherland's first time playing a police higher-up with political bigwigs to appease and a department to run. Davidtz is an inspired choice, as she is attractive without being a bombshell, and combines delicate fragility and fear with strength of mind and will. And Koteas is creepy as all get out. 

Sadly, the story does not measure up to the cast.  There is a fine line between a David-and-Goliath tale and a tried-and-true invincible villain.  At some point, the odds against the hero become so astronomical that the story ceases to be interesting.  While the villain here is equipped with some interesting and even creative powers, he is not sufficiently hobbled with points of vulnerability.  There's a reason vampires can traditionally be stopped by garlic, wooden stakes, and sunlight; why werewolves can be shot with silver bullets; why Smaug is missing a scale; why Buffy was a slayer with superpowers; why the Winchesters have salt shotguns and exorcism rituals and demon traps and who knows what all.  A truly impervious villain--like an impervious hero--is a bad narrative choice.  Here, while the writers make a haphazard attempt to limit the power of the villain, it is not enough.  Functionally, the villain is powerful enough that the story stops being scary and starts being annoying.  Also, the hero's big plan to Defeat the Bad Guy is unnecessarily complex and ultimately pretty stupid. 

That being said, there were some bright spots along the way, including the obligatory use of dead languages, a rather unorthodox (and static) chase scene, and extremely effective use of The Rolling Stones. 

Bottom line: it's not a terrible movie, but it's not great, either. 

NOTE:  Rated R, primarily for language.  Much of the 'horror' in this film is psychological, so there is little gore.

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