Sundance 2020: Falling

Lance Henriksen and Viggo Mortensen appear in Falling by Viggo Mortensen, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Brendan Adam-Zwelling.

Viggo Mortensen’s feature directorial debut, Falling, benefits from having a superb performance from actor Lance Henriksen.

When we first meet Willis (Lance Henriksen), we can immediately tell that he’s a character from a different era.  The more that we learn about him, the more we truly begin to know why: he has dementia.  One moment, Willis can be living in the present.  The next minute, he’ll be shouting for a wife who is no longer living.  This is why you can’t help but feel for pilot son John (Viggo Mortensen) in watching it all unfold.  Or least this was I how I saw it in watching Falling.

John lives in California with partner Eric (Terry Chen) and daughter Monica (Gabby Velis).  John’s sister, Sarah (Laura Linney), also lives in the state.  As Willis starts having an increasing number of episodes, we get differing accounts of life with John and Sarah’s mom, Gwen (Hannah Gross).  After splitting up, Willis later remarried and we get differing accounts of what happened in that regard.

Willis still lives on the family’s Northeastern farm so it makes sense for finding him a home in California.  Try getting any parent of that age to move.  It’s not easy.  Minus the hospital stays, my maternal grandmother lived in her house until the day she died.  I can’t help but see a lot of her in Willis minus the memory issues.  We didn’t have the best of relationships and she was not a nice woman.  At least not to me–so much that I ended up getting deadnamed in the obituary and I’m still not over it.  Meanwhile, my other grandmother–the nice one–suffered from memory loss after back surgery in the early 1990s.  She was never the same.  All of this explains why the film resonated with me.

Taking a step back from the issues with dementia and the film presents an entirely different layer by way of how Willis and John love.  For someone living in the northeast, Willis is surprisingly conservative.  On the other hand, John is a gay man living in California.  The two couldn’t be more different and yet they are father and son.

There’s nothing easy in watching an abusive parent or grandparent.  Factor in the added layer of having dementia and it doesn’t get any better.  And yet, Lance Henriksen is able to turn in a phenomenal performance as an aging grandfather with dementia in Falling.  It’s the type of performances that you can’t help but watch and immediately think you’re watching an awards contender.  Portraying Willis as a younger man is Sverrir Gudnason, who looks similar to Viggo himself.

I won’t lie in that the non-linear narrative does make it confusing to follow the film.  At the same time, the flashbacks help to see what the characters are thinking.  It especially helps to see what’s in Willis’ head especially in instances of sundowning.

CAST:  Lance Henriksen, Viggo Mortensen, Terry Chen, Sverrir Gudnason, Hannah Gross, and Laura Linney

Falling held its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program.  Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.