Screeching to the Choir
The director Richard Dutcher is far from a household name, even in houses belonging to independent film aficionados. His moves don’t play in major festivals, and in a reverse of the usual distribution pattern, they tend to open first in places like Utah (Dutcher’s home state) and Idaho, making their way to the coasts weeks or even months later. And yet, Dutcher has directed at least one bona fide hit, his 2000 sophomore feature God’s Army, which he also wrote and starred in and which grossed north of $2.5 million on a budget of only $300,000 — all the more remarkable in that Dutcher distributed the film himself too. This is probably where I should mention that Dutcher is Mormon, and that God’s Army, which painted a generally cheerful portrait of young LDS missionaries working the streets of Hollywood, owed much of its success to Mormon moviegoers (who, generally speaking, aren’t the moviegoing type). Since then, Dutcher has averaged a new film every two or three years, and to judge by the titles alone — Brigham City, States of Grace — you might conclude that he has continued to make movies for a Mormon audience. Until, that is, you see Dutcher’s films, at which point it becomes difficult to say whether he is preaching to the choir or trying to set it ablaze.If Brigham City (2001), a crackerjack thriller whose graphic violence and multiple spiritual crises (a favorite Dutcher subject) did much to alienate the God’s Army crowd, was something like the Mormon Se7en, Dutcher’s latest, Falling (which opens locally this weekend), might be considered the Mormon Medium Cool, seasoned with a healthy pinch of Paul Schrader’s Hardcore. In it, Dutcher plays Eric Boyle, an aspiring filmmaker working as a freelance newshound, hawking footage of fires, suicides and car crashes to the evening news. Meanwhile, Boyle’s aspiring actress wife, Davey (Virginia Reece), sells her soul in a different way, going out on auditions only to be asked to disrobe by lecherous producers and casting agents.Not one to beat around the bush, Dutcher opens Falling with Eric’s grisly discovery of Davey’s dead body dangling from the ceiling of their Hollywood home, then loops back to show us how the characters came to that moment. What follows is a searing portrait of the wages of sin in the big city. In Dutcher’s L.A., violence and depravity lurk around every corner, and if he sometimes seems to overstate the case, it’s equally clear that he’s working in hyperbole, that he’s inviting us into his own earthly inferno, climaxing in an act of grievous bodily harm (perpetrated against Dutcher) that makes the crucifixion from The Passion of the Christ look positively PG by comparison. Deliberately crude around the edges, with the grainy, hand-held images of an ’80s-era grindhouse special, this open wound of a movie is at once Dutcher’s most accomplished and personal film to date — the one that feels like Dutcher made it for no one other than himself, because if he didn’t get this off his chest, it might have eaten him alive. But here it is in theaters for anyone else who dares. If that makes Falling sound hard to watch, it is — but it’s even harder to shake. (Music Hall)—Scott Foundas
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