I don’t think it’s out of line to characterize 1998’s Fallen as a bit of a hidden gem. Though it’s not a perfect film, I nevertheless find it to be effective and entertaining. Director Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear 1996) is able to craft a lightly creepy atmosphere melding the genres of supernatural horror and Noir crime thriller.
Denzel Washington (The Bone Collector 1999) easily carries the piece and is surrounded by a nice complement of fan-favorite supporting actors. January 16th marks the film’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Let’s take a look back.
Denzel Washington plays John Hobbes, a good cop and a good man who is maybe only slightly overconfident. The beginning of the film sees him visiting the about-to-be-executed Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas: Crash 1996), a famous serial killer whom Hobbes caught.
Despite the circumstances, Reese seems strangely cocky, but all those present for the execution write it off as the ravings of a maniac. However, just days after Reese’s execution, copycat killings begin. Hobbes is shaken by the eerie similarities. Together with his partner, Jonesy (level-headed and loyal John Goodman), Hobbes investigates the case, focusing on these new, bizarre coincidences.
Though discouraged by Lieutenant Stanton (grouchy Donald Sutherland: Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978), he is soon led to the circumstances surrounding the tragic suicide of a disgraced cop from decades ago. Hobbes eventually reaches out to Gretta (vulnerable Embeth Davidtz: Army of Darkness 1992), the old cop’s surviving daughter and a Religious Studies professor.
Slowly, the street-smart detective comes around to the idea that he may be dealing with an incorporeal fallen angel that has the ability to possess people at will. Other notable players include James Gandolfini (8MM 1999) as a wiseass fellow cop, Gabriel Casseus (Black Hawk Down 2001) as Hobbes’ intellectually disabled brother, and Robert Joy (Land of the Dead 2005) as a hapless victim.
Performances are all pretty good to great. Washington is always a strong screen presence, here projecting nuanced humanity in a subtle version of the traditional good vs. evil narrative. Goodman (Kong: Skull Island 2017) is as solid as ever, providing a nice foil to Washington’s lead. Gandolfini shines in a smaller role as a cop who is not necessarily on the up and up. Koteas never fails to bring a smile to my face, although his role is not much more than an extended cameo.
The scripting by Nicholas Kazan (Dream Lover 1993) on Fallen is fairly tight, although once the supernatural elements become prominent, the piece becomes a little less engaging. The solid premise is clearly explained, even if the rules are conveniently fudged here and there. I enjoy the character work, and the consistency of the voice between various possessed people is nicely done. The downbeat ending perfectly complements the film’s overall dark tone.
Speaking of tone, Hoblit and DP Newton Thomas Sigel (Apt Pupil 1998) soak the screen in mood, particularly through the stylized first-person perspective of a certain someone. Though Fallen was shot mostly in Philadelphia, Hoblit is careful to leave the setting vague, cleverly invoking a subconscious uncertainty.
The score by Dun Tan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2000) rarely rises above serviceable but it does hit on some nicely dissonant themes. More memorable is the use of music within the film’s diegesis, though. The Rolling Stones’ “Time Is On My Side” is perhaps the movie’s calling card, meshing with the fatalistic and satanic aesthetic perfectly.
Not everything works in Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen. That being said, this box office disappointment deserves a reevaluation from fans. I’m surprised it hasn’t developed a larger cult following over the years. Denzel Washington is compelling as always and the film’s hook is competently executed in what is honestly a pleasingly atmospheric picture. Fallen is recommended for fans of Angel Heart, Se7en, and The Devil’s Advocate.