Falling Down is a 1993 film directed by Joel Schumacher about the character William "Bill" Foster (played by Michael Douglas) also known as "D-Fens" (named for his license plate) attempting to "go home" for his daughter's birthday after abandoning his car in traffic on the hottest day of the year. As he passes through the city of Los Angeles, California on foot, he finds himself alienated, disgusted and angered by what he experiences as he is accosted, overcharged and rejected. He becomes a vigilante as he gradually begins to accumulate weaponry and starts to force people out of his way.
The title of the film, referring to Foster's mental collapse, is taken from the title of the nursery rhyme London Bridge is Falling Down: Detective Martin Prendergast's wife's insists throughout the movie that she and her husband retire to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where the old London Bridge was moved; a snowglobe purchased by Foster as a gift for his daughter also plays the tune of the song.
As the movie was being filmed, the massive 1992 Los Angeles riots (also known as the Rodney King riots) broke out, bringing to light many of the issues of racial, social and economic tensions portrayed in the film.
The film traces the stories of two men; out-of-work defense worker William "Bill" Foster (played by Michael Douglas) and over-the-hill LAPD Detective Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall) on an especially hot day in Los Angeles.
Foster (whose name is only mentioned once in the entire film and who is listed in the end credits only as "D-Fens," a reference to his car's vanity license plate) has been recently divorced, handed a restraining order to keep him away from his wife and child, laid off from his job, and is now trapped in a traffic jam full of rude motorists. After his car's air conditioning fails, he abandons the vehicle and begins walking across the city toward the Venice district and the home of his ex-wife (Barbara Hershey). As he progresses, his behavior toward other city residents becomes increasingly violent and erratic, as he gathers to himself an array of weapons with which to inflict vigilante retribution for what he perceives as injustices and personal slights.
He starts by assaulting a Korean store owner (Michael Paul Chan), criticizing him for charging exorbitant prices and refusing to make change without purchasing a Coca-Cola (Foster requires the change to make a phone call to his wife), and when the owner attempts to defend himself with a baseball bat, Foster takes it from him, destroys his merchandise with it, pays what he feels is a fair price for the Coke and leaves. The shopkeeper is left stunned.
Shortly after, Foster is confronted by two Hispanic gang members who demand that he pay a "toll" for passing through their "territory." Foster tries to remain calm by joking around with them, but eventually works up into a rage. He manages to drive them away with the bat and picks up the butterfly knife dropped by one of the gang members, finding its design and workings fascinating. The same gang members are desperate for revenge and later track down Foster, attempting to kill him in a drive-by shooting. The gang members shoot several innocent bystanders, but fail to hit Foster and are killed when they crash their car down the street. After patronising the gangsters who survived (shooting one in the leg), Foster then acquires their duffel bag of various firearms and continues on his journey.
Next, Foster enters a fast food restaurant called Whammyburger and politely attempts to order from the breakfast menu. However, the restaurant's cashier and manager refuse to serve him breakfast (it is two minutes past the deadline for the change to lunch). After an increasingly tense argument with the manager, Foster becomes angry and pulls a TEC-9 out of the bag of weapons, accidentally firing a couple of shots into the ceiling. He forces the employees to serve him breakfast while apologizing about the shots and trying to desperately re-assure the customers around him, but ends up deciding to have lunch. When he receives his meal, he again becomes angry, this time over the difference between the thick, generous hamburgers pictured in the in-store advertising and the actual product (which he calls a "sorry, miserable, squashed thing").
During his walk, Foster buys a snowglobe as a birthday present for his daughter. He then stops in an army/navy surplus store to find a replacement for his shoes, one of which has a hole worn through the bottom. The store owner (Frederic Forrest) helpfully presents Foster his choice of "hiking boots", but is soon revealed to be homophobic as he begins to harass two gay men browsing the store. Shortly after he forces the two gay men out of the store, Detective Sandra Torres (Rachel Ticotin) comes inside and asks him if he has seen a person matching Foster's description. The owner denies having seen Foster and is careful not to draw attention to the dressing room where Foster is trying his boots on. After Detective Torres leaves, the store owner locks the front door and takes Foster to his "private stash" in the back of the shop, presenting himself as Foster's friend. The store owner is then revealed to be a Neo-Nazi, as the room is full of Nazi paraphernalia. He gleefully shows Foster an empty can of "actually used" Zyklon B and tries to give him an M72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon as a present, believing himself and Foster to be on the same side. He refers to a police radio scanner he has been listening to, which mentioned the shooting in the Whammyburger and other such incidents throughout the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.
After Foster lashes out and calls the confused Neo-Nazi a "sick asshole", the Neo-Nazi pulls a Taurus PT92 and forces him against a counter. While going through Foster's bag of weapons, the Neo-Nazi finds the snowglobe and promptly destroys it (to Foster's dismay), calling it "faggot shit". When the Neo-Nazi tries to handcuff Foster, Foster stabs him in the shoulder with the butterfly knife and proceeds to kill the man execution style with the Neo-Nazi's gun. This is the only deliberate murder that Foster commits in the entire film.
Afterwards, Foster trades his business clothes for army fatigues and takes the M72 Light Anti-tank Weapon from the store, which he soon uses to terrorize a road repair crew who are lazily sitting around not bothering to do much work, and not much try and sort out the traffic queue forming because of them. Foster accuses them of conducting unnecessary repairs (and snarling traffic) solely to justify their inflated budget. He tries to use the weapon to blow up some of the 'repair' works completed further ahead. Initially he can't operate the weapon, but after a child on a bike helps him, he succeeds in giving the crew "something to repair".
Prendergast, on his last day before retirement, also has a troubled, frustrating life. He must deal with a domineering, sometimes hysterical wife (Tuesday Weld) and mocking co-workers (in particular his supervisor, who doesn't trust him because he "doesn't curse"), with the exception of his former partner, Detective Sandra Torres.
With Torres, Prendergast traces Foster's movements across L.A. and rushes to intercept him before he can reach his ex-wife's house. Foster's ex-wife has already called police several times, panicked because Foster has repeatedly and menacingly called her, announcing his plan to attend their young daughter's birthday party no matter what.
Foster proceeds to cut through a golf course, angering an older, rich, cigar-smoking golfer who complains that Foster is walking on "his golf course." He angrily hits his golf ball at Foster, whereupon Foster responds by shooting his golf cart with a shotgun. At this point the old golfer has a heart attack, begs a scathing Foster for his heart medication, which is in the cart sinking into a water hazard.
Foster then climbs over a wall topped with barbed wire, on which he cuts his hand. He arrives on the other side to find an enormous mansion right in the middle of LA. He becomes enraged at the disparity of wealth, and when he spots a man near the pool in the back yard, he begins shouting at him. The man states that he does not own the property, but works for the owner, who is out of town and allowing his employees to use his house for recreational purposes. As the police rush through the streets, responding to Foster's mayhem, Foster resolves to hide with the man and his family in the back patio. He begins telling the family of his troubles, of how he once worked as an engineer for a defense contractor to the United States government, designing and building missile systems, but was laid off when the Cold War ended. He reveals that he feels betrayed and lied to by his country and everyone in his life, having studied hard only to be disposed of as obsolete, and he claims to have been deemed "over-educated and under-skilled". When Foster sees blood on the man's daughter's hand from his own cut, he assumes he has hurt the daughter and begins to apologize profusely. When the man asks that Foster take him as a hostage in exchange for his family's safety, Foster becomes furious that the man assumes he intends them harm and leaves them.
When Foster arrives finally at his wife's house, she has already fled with their daughter. He decides to stay there anyway, not knowing where she might have gone. He waits in the living room and decides to watch a home movie that was made during their marriage. In it, he and his then-wife enjoy a summer day much like the present day, on the pier by the beach with their daughter. As he watches the video, however, he realizes that he had been stressing his family as well; he causes his infant daughter to cry and his wife to become angry with him as he shouts at her. While watching, he marvels at a "toy" water-pistol bought as a present for his young daughter on her birthday. Suddenly he realizes that his wife would probably have fled to the pier, which is stated in the home video to be one of the places she feels safest. At this point, Prendergast arrives. Torres, who is with Prendergast, insists that she go in through the back door to confront Foster, while Prendergast, having turned in his weapon, remain out front to back her up (a theme throughout the film is the danger police officers must put themselves in to defend others, exemplified by Prendergast's wish not to be shot or otherwise killed during his last day on the job). As she heads around back, Foster shoots her in the stomach with a pistol- his last weapon- and takes off, with Prendergast calling an ambulance before pursuing Foster.
At the pier, Prendergast dismisses Foster's complaints about being deceived and mistreated by society, however legitimate, as no excuse for terrorizing people. In explaining that his own daughter died at the age of two, Pendergast also seems to hint at the possibility that his own wife killed the child, saying it was "strange" that she supposedly died of sudden infant death syndrome at the age of two.
Prendergast positions himself between Foster and his daughter and ex-wife, and insists that Foster must give himself up to the police who are just arriving with the ambulance. Foster looks puzzled by this request, and responds with "I'm the bad guy? How did that happen?" Finally resolving himself to the role, Foster begins insisting that he and Prendergast engage in a cowboy-style showdown, stating that it would be poetic. Prendergast begs him to reconsider. However, Foster, having left the duffel bag at his ex-wife's home, draws his daughter's water pistol on Prendergast, causing Prendergast to reflexively shoot and kill him, thus allowing Foster's life insurance to go to his wife and daughter—which would not have happened had he committed suicide. Foster falls over the pier railing and into the sea (In reference to the title, and with reference to what has happened to his life). Shortly after, Prendergast (whose behavior has also become harsher over the course of the film, changing from a mild submissive man to one who asserts himself with his wife and punches an insulting co-worker) publicly curses his overbearing and two-faced supervisor in front of the media ("Fuck you, Captain. Fuck you very much!"), while Officer Torres is taken away on a stretcher. The film ends with Prendergast realizing that he ultimately still wants to be a police officer, but had only lost touch with his passion due to his wife's hatred for the job, and so he decides not to retire yet.
"What is fascinating about the Douglas character, as written and played, is the core of sadness in his soul. Yes, by the time we meet him, he has gone over the edge. But there is no exhilaration in his rampage, no release. He seems weary and confused, and in his actions he unconsciously follows scripts that he may have learned from the movies, or on the news, where other frustrated misfits vent their rage on innocent bystanders."