The point at which a director’s filmography crosses into autobiography is a tricky subject, for as much as critics relish the opportunity to elevate the odd review to the level of serious criticism, there remains the nagging and much-debated issue of whether such films ought to be evaluated on their own merits or as part of a body of work. In the case of Richard Dutcher, the Utah-based indie auteur who inaugurated the Mormon independent film movement in 2000 with God’s Army, the increasingly personal and restless tack of his pictures makes it impossible, even unwise to assess them in any other context.
To say that Dutcher’s latest, Falling, will inspire controversy may be the understatement of the year. Emotionally grueling and painful to an almost Medieval extent, the film once again stars Dutcher—back in front of the camera after a one-film hiatus for 2005’s States of Grace (aka God’s Army II )—as Eric Boyle, a lapsed Mormon and aspiring filmmaker earning his keep as a freelance news videographer in Los Angeles. While Eric skirts around the city chasing breaking news and warm crime scenes, his wife Davey (Virginia Reece) pursues the other side of the Hollywood dream as a struggling actress. Neither pursuit is particularly edifying or encouraging, each suffering the daily bruises of a business that treats human beings like chattel and their dreams like chaff.
But when Eric finds himself an unexpected witness to a gang killing, he instinctively captures it on videotape, earning a handsome sum and securing himself a taste of the success and notoriety both he and Davey have long craved. The bliss is short-lived, however, as the darker repercussions of the event begin to envelop them, literally and figuratively, body and soul.
There has always been a strain of Faustian darkness in Dutcher’s films, an acknowledgement of the role that evil must play as a necessary counterpoint to goodness. And while that strain has grown exponentially in each subsequent effort—most notably in 2001’s murder mystery Brigham City— Falling puts the darkness front and center, plunging audiences into a Dante-esque hell from which there may genuinely be no escape.
The picture is purported to be Dutcher’s farewell to Mormon filmmaking, though it is hardly a fond one. For a community that typically eschews anything harder than a PG-13, Dutcher’s R-rated primal scream is bound to rattle more than a few cages. At the same time, it would be unfair to characterize Falling as an exclusively “Mormon” film. As Dutcher’s work has grown darker and more provocative, it has also become more mainstream and meditative, embracing themes that few other filmmakers of faith would dare even acknowledge. Some will see a more petty agenda here—Dutcher angrily stabbing back at both Mormonism and Hollywood for their perceived slights and offenses—but the reality is more complex, a filmmaker still wrestling with his faith and his art, and flatly refusing to allow his audience the luxury of not caring one way or the other. It’s an important and indelible work, excruciatingly difficult to watch and impossible to forget.
Distributor: Main Street Movie
Cast: Richard Dutcher, Virginia Reece, Tennison Hightower, Frank Uzzolino, Maria Eberline, Anthony Tavera, Cesar Garcia and Lynn Elliot
Director/Screenwriter: Richard Dutcher
Producers: Richard Dutcher, Gwen Dutcher, Dan Urness, Jeff Chamberlain and Mark Victor
Rating: R for strong brutal violence, bloody images and language
Running time: 83 min.
Release date: January 18, 2008 SLC