May 31, 2005
Starring: Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Chazz Palminteri, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Treat Williams, Jennifer Connelly, Andrew McCarthy, John Malkovich, Bruce Dern, Daniel Baldwin, William Petersen, Rob Lowe, ,
They say timing is everything and this certainly applies to the release and reception of movies. Case in point: Mulholland Falls (1996). Released a year before the very similar L.A. Confidential (1997), Falls was also a retro-noir set in 1950s Los Angeles that featured a murder mystery leading to a vast conspiracy. However, Falls was promptly blasted by the critics and quickly disappeared from theatres while Confidential became the toast of critics and award shows all over the world. So, what went wrong? Falls featured a cast of solid character actors (it had more name actors than Confidential) and a critically acclaimed director with Once Were Warriors’ Lee Tamahori as opposed to Confidential’s Curtis Hanson who had only done adequate B-movies like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and The River Wild (1994). Now that a few years have passed, Mulholland Falls has aged surprisingly well.
Set in 1953, the first image is one of a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb explosion. It is one of the enduring images from that era and one that hangs like a shadow over the characters and events in the movie. Max Hoover (Nolte) leads a group of four cops (known as The Hat Squad) who do things their own way, like bullying out-of-town gangsters and dropping them off one of the deserted stretches of Mulholland Drive (aka “Mulholland Falls”) as a deterrent for setting up shop in Los Angeles. One day, Max and his crew, Coolidge (Palminteri), Eddie (Madsen) and Relyea (Penn), go out to a construction site to investigate the murder of a beautiful woman (Connelly) who has been literally pressed into the ground. There is a shock of recognition on Max’s world-weary face. His connection to the dead girl and his subsequent investigation into her murder leads to a dangerous conspiracy involving the U.S. government and a mysterious General Timms (Malkovich), head of the Atomic Energy Commission.
One of the first things that is so striking about this film is the gorgeous attention to detail with vintage cars, suits and music from the period. The casting of actresses Melanie Griffith and Jennifer Connelly is right on the money as they both have the voluptuous body type common to that era. Sadly, they aren’t given too much screen time but this does give Connelly’s character something of an ethereal, mysterious quality that is quite haunting and works well in the movie.
With his gravelly voice and weathered good looks, Nick Nolte is well cast as the conflicted tough guy, Max Hoover. If there is one significant problem with the film it is the lack of screen time given to the excellent actors in his crew. They are given little time to develop their characters with only Chazz Palminteri edging out the others. There is little chemistry between them and as a result it isn’t believable that they are a tight-knit crew. That being said, the chemistry between Nolte and Palminteri begins to kick in towards the end of the movie but it is too little, too late. Palminteri plays Nolte’s best friend and second-in-command. He’s the most sensitive of the bunch (although, that’s not saying much) because he’s seeing a female psychiatrist and this makes him the voice of reason, often curbing Max’s more self-destructive impulses.
John Malkovich essays yet another one of his cultured bad guy roles as General Timms. The first meeting between him and Nolte is good as we watch two different acting styles bounce off each other. Timms tries to dazzle Hoover with philosophical double speak while the cop plays dumb but subtly applies pressure on the scientist. What is so interesting about this scene is what is not being said.
Just a theatrical trailer.
There is somber tone that hangs over Mulholland Falls and the ending is refreshingly downbeat (unlike the very classic Hollywood ending of L.A. Confidential). Like any good noir protagonist, Max’s shattered life stays shattered. The murder has been solved but at a terrible cost to his own life. While Falls is a flawed film and certainly not as strong as Confidential, it is not an awful film by any means and actually has a lot of merits. It is definitely worth another visit and this new DVD offers the perfect opportunity.