If “Falling” had been made in Britain or Romania — or some other country with a tradition for gritty and introspective dramatic filmmaking — it would have been hailed as a dark minor masterpiece.
But “Falling” was made in Hollywood, not by a studio filmmaker but by indie director Richard Dutcher, an ex-Mormon from Utah working with a shoestring budget and casting himself as the star. Maybe this brooding, tough-minded tale of moral dilemmas, first released in 2008 and put on the shelf by Dutcher since then, will get the recognition it deserves anyway.
Dutcher — who famously left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after making two well-received movies about his Mormon faith, “God’s Army” and “Brigham City” — gets our attention with the opening sequence, a wrenching scene in which his character, Eric, is confronted with grief and guilt in a single moment. In that moment, he looks up to God and, through sobs of rage and sadness, says something quite shocking.
Dutcher’s script then takes us back four days, to see how Eric got to this point. He’s an L.A. videographer, shooting bloody crime scenes and selling the footage to local TV stations. He came to L.A. with dreams of being a great filmmaker, but his job is killing his dream and his spirit.
“I’m not supposed to be like this,” he tells his wife, Davey (Virginia Reece). “I was a missionary.” (Indeed, we see a flashback of a young Eric as an LDS missionary — with footage of a younger Dutcher from “God’s Army.”)
One day, Eric gets footage of a crime in progress: three gang members stabbing a man to death. His moral dilemmas compound, as he must decide whether to put down the camera and help the victim — and, later, decide what to do with the footage, and the fallout when the gang members learn their crime is on tape.
Meanwhile, Davey has her own crisis of conscience. She’s a struggling actress who could get her big break with the lead role in an indie film — but only if she submits to the infamous “casting couch.”
Dutcher and cinematographer Jim Orr go for broke with a rough handheld look that matches Eric’s emotional and spiritual freefall. Dutcher pushes the violence to uncomfortable levels, but it doesn’t feel gratuitous — merely a reflection of the bloody mess that Eric has made of his life.
And for all that, “Falling” turns out to be as spiritually moving as the movies Dutcher made when he was still a practicing Mormon. Dutcher asks hard questions — of himself, of the audience, and of God — and leaves the answers for each of us to discover.
Richard Dutcher confronts moral dilemmas on L.A.’s mean streets in this tough, bloody drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens today.
Rating • R for strong brutal violence, bloody images and language.
Running time • 84 minutes.
Dutcher in person
“Falling’s” writer-director-star Richard Dutcher will make an in-person appearance after today’s 7 p.m. screening at the Broadway, 111 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City. Admission for that one screening is $10.