MOVIES : ‘Falling Down’ Writer Has Seen the Future: It’s L.A.


Although “Falling Down” could be set in any major U.S. city, screenwriter Ebbe Roe Smith says he wanted to write about Los Angeles as experienced by a man at the end of his rope because “to me, L.A. is the future of everywhere else in the United States.

“Things that are happening here today will be happening everywhere else tomorrow,” says Roe. “In the film, the lead character (D-FENS, played by Michael Douglas) has to deal with a lot of L.A. issues--the rise of traffic and crime and gangs, the new tide of immigrants and the tensions that arise when neighborhoods bump into each other--that tomorrow will be the issues that other cities will be forced to deal with too.”

Indeed, the city of Los Angeles--from the crumbling boardwalks of Venice to downtown’s graffitied decay--plays the part of a supporting character in the film, according to producer Timothy Harris.


The first screenplay Roe has seen produced, “Falling Down” is being touted by its distributor, Warner Bros., as a socially relevant and timely slice of life in the tradition of 1979’s “The China Syndrome,” which opened soon after the Three Mile Island crisis.

In this era of economic disarray, urban violence and rioting, the movie’s posters and TV advertisements play up the idea of the “city as an enemy,” where nothing seems to work the way it once did.

In that way, is “Falling Down” a wake-up call to other cities? Smith thinks this one over, then answers, “I wouldn’t say it’s a wake-up call, it’s just an observation. Los Angeles is troubled, clearly, but at this point, I don’t know what solutions there are to be had.

“To me,” he continues, “even though the movie deals with complicated urban issues, it really is just about one basic thing: The main character represents the old power structure of the U.S. that has now become archaic, and hopelessly lost. And that way, I guess you could say D-FENS is like Los Angeles. For both of them, it’s adjust-or-die time--that’s what the movie is about.”