Director: Gregory Hoblit
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, James Gandolfini, Embeth Davidtz, Elias Koteas, Gabriel Casseus
Plot: After witnessing the execution of a serial killer (Koteas), Detective Hobbs (Washington) relaxes into an ordinary life. But then a copycat killer case begins to get eerier and eerier…
Fallen is best described as a bowl of delicious chips (please excuse the food metaphors rife in this review – I am currently starving). I cannot really bring myself to fault the core ingredient of the dish. The beautifully cooked chips in this metaphor is the basis of a pretty strong movie. Denzel Washington plays a sharp detective who is celebrating the fact that he has just successfully seen a deadly serial killer, Edgar Reese, put down, after a long and arduous case. In the final moments of Reese’s life, he began taunting Hobbs, seemingly unafraid of death, quoting dead languages and singing creepy 60s tunes, as he walked to his execution. Hobbs largely ignores this believing that this was merely the killer trying to get under Hobbs’ skin one last time. However, the very next case Hobbs takes is a copycat killer, leaving riddles only the real Reese could have known. The case gets stranger and stranger, supernatural elements cropping up until Hobbs finds himself fighting a demonic villain that has a seemingly unstoppable power. This feels like a satisfying blend of supernatural horror, coated in a Noir detective mystery casing. For a long time, it feels refreshingly unique, taking the gloomy atmosphere of Se7en and adding a souped-up Angelheart story in the mix. The bad guy’s power is to swap bodies with a single touch, meaning that Hobbs spends a lot of the time of the movie chasing his own tail. However, while the chips in this metaphor are grand indeed, director Gregory Hoblit has come along and coated the meal with too much ketchup. Now don’t get me wrong, adding a touch of ketchup can improve a bowl of chips. Hoblit’s goal is to bring Fallen out of the trashy horror movie with some meaningful narrative flairs. Embeth Davidtz stars as a professor who believes that the killer is the soul of a fallen angel, terrorising humanity. Washington researches biblical texts to get closer to this harrowing truth. For a time, it makes Fallen feel better than it probably is. However, then Hoblit goes overboard with the ketchup, drowning the whole meal in it. Fallen is both overcooked and over-long – as the movie enters its halfway mark, the entertainment factor has slowly been squeezed out of the room. The supporting cast are phenomenal (Goodman, Gandolfini, Sutherland), but they are given characters who have no bearing on the plot. It is terrible to watch the three talented actors suppressed by a script that doesn’t care about them. Goodman gets some fun in the last act, but otherwise, the film is focused purely on Washington and a killer, who is hard to bond with, because his power involves switching the actor out every five minutes. We lack that face to put to this snarling bad guy figure. The movie ends up being a very drawn-out religious thriller, too heavy for its own good and the good moments are buried under too much dressing.
This is a crying shame, because, as I said, there is a solid story going on here. Denzel Washington might suffer from the movie’s attention being solely on him, but he fares a lot better than most actors. His delivery is so casual that he adds life to his stock cop figure, adding levity to a script that seems so ready to descend into wallowing misery. And while the story does make a few bad moves in terms of laying on the mythology too thickly, it does feel like the kind of film that was almost amazing. The body-jumping baddie lends itself to some spectacular sequences. As Embeth Davidtz flees from a crowd that is, essentially, chasing her in a terrifying game of Tag, the stakes are unbearable. And when Hobbs’ own nephew turns on him, the danger at play in this film are made scarily evident. The finale is strong too, a celebration of the wit and intelligence of humanity, a worthy send-off to the movie that could have easily descend into End of Days territory – Arnold Schwarzenegger kicking the crap out of Satan. No, there is a strong movie here, justo ne that makes too many mistakes to be forgiven. That ending is good, but a tad disappointing, given the added length. This movie is begging to be a slick 90 minute thriller, rather than a two hour epic. The detective angle is also intriguing, dragging the supernatural into a package we can understand. However, the director tips his hat to the answer from the start, so rather than joining Denzel Washington as he solves the riddles, we are watching him from afar, in the know, annoyed that he keeps running in the wrong direction. It sucks that crucial sense of empathy that might have saved Fallen from being the over-bloated mess it is. The end result: a movie that earns a sad sigh, rather than an excited squeal, leaving this audience member with a strange craving for chips.
Final Verdict: Somewhere along the way a strong detective thriller became a heavy debate about morality and religion. A fallen angel, indeed…