This is a powerful film, but I personally don't look at it as some type of social commentary or condemnation of modern society, although it certainly touches on some of the problems that will always exist among human beings. Falling Down may well have a potent effect on anyone watching it, though. It always leaves me feeling really, really weird because it touches on so many things we all have to put up with each day, presents a monster whom I can't help but sympathize with in some degree, provides us with a hero whose own life is rife with undeserved problems, and runs its course atop a strong undercurrent of sadness. Michael Douglas gives one of his better performances as Bill Foster, an unremarkable man who finds his world torn apart and finally just snaps. He has lost his wife and little girl (which is his own fault); he's lost his job, the one thing that made him feel important; he just wants things to be like they used to be. He doesn't want to sit in traffic with no air conditioning or pay almost a dollar for a little can of soda or see plastic surgeons living the life of Riley while he can't even support his little girl. His journey "home" is an extraordinary one, and the kinds of awful people he encounters on the way do nothing to help his mentality. It's hard not to cheer him on when he manages to effect an escape from a couple of gangsters trying to rob him, but acts such as holding a burger joint up just because they refuse to serve him breakfast after lunch time is, obviously, way out there. No matter what terrible things he does, though, I can't get completely past the fact that he earnestly wants to see his little girl and give her a present for her birthday; in a clearly psychotic way, I find this movie somewhat touching, and that only makes the whole experience more depressing than it already is.
Robert Duvall is indeed quite good as the good cop, Prendergast, pursuing this vigilante on his last day before retirement. His life is no dream either, but of course he handles his own problems in a way quite unlike our man Foster does. His wife is clearly disturbed, made frighteningly burdensome and vulnerable by the death of their own little girl and an earlier wounding of her husband on the job. For her benefit, he took a desk job and is forced to put up with a lot of jokes and insults from his fellow cops, including his own boss. Except for his partner, all of the cops in this film are as unfeeling and cruel as some of the shady characters Foster meets up with during his journey home, and that is to me one of the more disturbing aspects of this film.
One of the things I liked most about Falling Down was its attempt to portray Foster as one very disturbed man and not a stand-in for any type of stereotypical vigilante; one character in particular makes this point quite clearly when, discovering that Foster doesn't actually agree with him in his own twisted, stereotypically extremist mindset, he asks the man just what kind of vigilante he is supposed to be. My own thinking is that Falling Down is not meant to be a warning about a group of potential Bill Fosters festering in the midst of society; instead, by showing us what happens to one man, it is warning us to walk carefully on our own journeys and to be careful to keep our tempers in check even when the world seems to be out to get us. At the same time, it doesn't imply that we should roll over and play dead whenever a problem comes our way, using the character of Prendergast to show us that we can and should stand up for ourselves but only in constructive ways. I really have a lot of conflicting emotions about this film, but the one thing I am sure of is that Falling Down is an unforgettable motion picture well worth seeing.