Viggo Mortensen Confronts Abusive Parenting in His Directorial Debut ‘Falling’

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Falling (CREDIT: Brendan Adam-Zwelling/Quiver Distribution)

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen, Sverrir Gudnason, Laura Linney, Terry Chen, Hannah Gross, Gabby Velis

Director: Viggo Mortensen

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: R for Just About Every Ethnic and Gendered Slur You Can Think Of (and Brief Nudity)

Release Date: February 5, 2021 (Theaters and On Demand)

I’m generally not terribly excited to watch movies about emotionally abusive parents, whereas I am generally excited to watch the directorial debuts of actors whose work I consistently enjoy. So I find myself internally conflicted at the prospect of Falling, in which Viggo Mortensen directs himself as John Peterson, a family man attempting to deal with his profoundly irascible father Willis (Lance Henriksen). Surprisingly enough, while watching I didn’t find myself entirely anxiety-ridden by all the familial strife on display. Perhaps my mood just happened to be in enough of a state of equilibrium to handle it, and quite possibly I wouldn’t have reacted as keenly on a more stressful day. Or maybe it had something to do with the variety of ways (frustration, gritted teeth, amusement, insults, etc.) that Willis’ kids and grandkids employ to respond to his provocations and declining mental health.

If there is one major takeaway above all others to Falling, it is the Power of Patience. John appears to be genuinely happy that his dad is spending the weekend at his house with his husband Eric (Terry Chen) and daughter Monica (Gabby Velis), but we know that his feelings can’t possibly be all (or even mostly) positive, as childhood flashbacks present a father-son relationship in which Willis browbeats his son over every single major or minor decision that he makes. And yet for all the decades of turmoil he’s endured, John is still conscientious enough to honor his own internal sense of familial loyalty. I wouldn’t judge him if he were to instead decide that the healthiest choice would be to cut his father off, but I’m glad that he tries to keep the peace with him long enough so that we have a family dinner scene in which John’s sister (Laura Linney) and her kids show up so that everyone can have a chance to declare what they really think about Grandpa.

The final act of Falling is a little more slow going, as it departs from John’s place on the West Coast back to Willis’ farm in Upstate New York. John is helping to put the property on the market, but Willis is deeply connected to his horses and intent on spending more time with them. At least that’s what I think is going on. Frankly, the story becomes significantly less dynamic when John and Willis are away from the rest of the extended Peterson clan, and I must admit that my sense of connection to what I was watching started to drift during the farm scenes. But overall, this is still a fairly compelling piece about how intergenerational trauma has a long tail but also about how it can be digested and rejected for a different approach.

Falling is Recommended If You Like: Angsty family dinner scenes, White horses

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Pathological Insults

This Is a Movie Review: In ‘Green Book,’ Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali Forge Friendship Amidst Ignorance and Segregation

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CREDIT: Patti Perret/Universal Studios

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Director: Peter Farrelly

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Racist Encounters, But Not So Intense That They Require an R Rating

Release Date: November 16, 2018 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide November 21, 2018

Is there any real living person with an appetite like that of Frank Vallelonga, aka “Tony Lip”? This is a character who has taken to heart the advice to always do everything 100%, which when it comes to food, means to devour whatever he’s eating like it’s his last meal. Tony Lip was a real person who worked at the Copacabana in his early days and went on to be an actor in the likes of Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, and The Sopranos. When we meet a fictionalized version of Tony in the 1960s in Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, he’s eating 26 hot dogs in one sitting to win a $50 bet and getting ready to be the personal driver to a black jazz musician who is going on a tour that will take him through the Deep South. I don’t know if the real Tony ate everything in sight the way that Viggo Mortensen-as-Tony does, but if this characteristic were not based at least somewhat in reality, it would be plainly outrageous. But for as over-the-top as Mortensen plays Tony, I can recognize something familiar in his joie de vivre, as I, for one, am pretty shameless. But even for me, folding an entire pizza pie in half to eat the whole thing at once is a bridge too far. (Although now that I think about it, I might do that if someone dared me.)

Much more universally relatable, despite being a much more idiosyncratic character, is Tony’s passenger, Doctor Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). He is stuck between so many worlds, uncertain of where he really fits in, but he does his best to project a true version of himself. In other words, he is like all of us. A classically trained pianist who would much rather be playing Bach and Beethoven, he accepts that he must rely on jazz to find himself an audience. But he is hardly a part of the mainstream, as he is barely aware of the work of contemporary black pop musicians like Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin. Having been born in Jamaica and spent a good portion of his childhood training in Russia, he can barely relate to his fellow black Americans. And as much as he shares cultural tastes with his high society white audiences, they do not exactly consider him a peer, considering that institutionalized segregation means that he cannot eat alongside them even when he is their guest of honor. On top of all that, he is estranged from his family, leaving him precious little in the way of emotional stability.

The story of Green Book is how these two men find something fulfilling in each other over the course of miles on the road. But as heartwarming as it is, theirs is only one small tale in the face of the massive hatred that they lived through and that continues to exist today. Farrelly and his actors do not ignore this context (this context being “life on Earth”). That means that Tony and Don must contend with institutionalized racism and racist thoughtlessness and general thoughtlessness on their way to genuine friendship. Will telling their story make a difference in this misbegotten world? Who’s to say, but what is more certain is that it resonates in the moment, and honest companionship and open-heartedness is valuable wherever you can find it.

Green Book is Recommended If You Like: The friendships of Men in Black, Shrek, Lethal Weapon, etc.

Grade: 4 out of 5 KFC Buckets