a critiQal film review Fallen (1998)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Det. John Hobbes (Washington) attends the execution of Edgar Reese (Koteas), the serial killer he caught. Shortly after Reese's death, a new string of murders starts up with all of Reese's telltale trademarks. As these new murders begin to implicate him, Det. Hobbes uncovers Greta (Davidtz), the daughter of a police officer who committed suicide nearly 30 years ago, who gives Hobbes information he doesn't want to believe.

550 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 45s)

While Denzel Washington has never been our favorite actor, we’ve discovered it’s more about the films he’s in, rather than his inability to involve the viewer. With films like Deja Vu (2006), or other smart thrillers, he shows he’s capable of keeping the viewer interested through some rather twisty plots.

So, would the same be true for his 1998 role in the supernatural thriller Fallen, or was this another of his misfires?

Like with most of his roles, the viewer’s first introduction to Denzel Washington’s character in Fallen leaves a lot to be desired. With the film told almost entirely in flashback, the viewer’s first meeting with Denzel is his rather comical-looking struggle to make it across some frozen ground, a spastic comedy of maneuvers that doesn’t exactly get the viewer’s hopes up about the film. But, as the film digs deeper into Washington’s character Det. Hobbes, a bit of the performance we found so appealing in hits like Deja Vu (2006) or Man on Fire (2004) begins to peek through. Sadly, it’s not there all the time, rather appearing and disappearing in spurts, but that occasional burst is worth sticking around for.

Denzel’s cohorts in Fallen are a mixed bag, many of them nothing more than archetypal stereotypes. Still, there are a few surprises – both positive and negative – among the bunch (John Goodman, surprisingly, positive, while James Gandolfini’s role’s lack of substance falling more toward the negative), making for a cast with a few tricks up it’s sleeves – a good thing, even if all those “tricks” aren’t winners.

The setup, as the viewer quickly comes to find out, takes a nifty idea – a killer spirit can be transferred by touch, literally making the killer absolutely anyone at any given time – makes for a formidable foe for our intrepid detective, as it rules out normal means of detecting, including fingerprinting and prior history. Unfortunately, such a formidable foe is a bit too much for Average Joe detectives like Det. Hobbes, so Fallen falls back on the usual plot devices – like a character available to reveal the foe…and, of course, easy knowledge of its weaknesses – all supplied with a starting point by the foe itself.

It’s this implausibility that has garnered Fallen – despite it’s eerily creepy idea of a killer who can really be anyone – much of its negative press, and viewers won’t be able to find much fault with that. Sadly, Fallen just doesn’t quite live up to its expectations.

Unfortunately, that may be mostly due to a storyline that, for the most part, doesn’t take advantage of its superb idea. It does manage to run with it once or twice (including a hair-raising chase sequence involving Greta). Despite some surprises then – including the director’s skill at seeming to follow an unseen spirit on the move – Fallen, while decent during it’s 2-hour run, leaves the viewer thinking the film could have, with a more well-defined script, delivered more than just the handful of solid sequences during it’s course.

Fallen may be a bit of a disappointment, but it’s still worth a look thanks to those handful of memorable sequences – and unlike the film it’s usually compared to, Se7en, it was actually able to keep my attention throughout its entire running time.

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