After The Fall (aka Things People Do) Review

Posted: March 25, 2014 in 2014 Berlinale, Drama, Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

Note: This film premiered under the title Things People Do at the 2014 Berlinale. The title has been changed to After The Fall prior to its U.S. release in December 2014.

Nothing stays buried.things-people-do02 Family secrets about a dead relative can’t be kept from the kids. Uncomfortable facts about a husband’s ability to provide are discovered by the wife. Even a hastily buried stray animal won’t stay under the earth. And more than anything else, the American Dream is exposed as a sham.

The truth will out in Things People Do, a modest film that looks at one man’s struggles in Middle America in the face of the fallout from the financial crisis.

On the surface, Bill Scanlon (Wes Bentley) has it all: beautiful wife, two kids, new house in the burbs with a built-in pool in the backyard. Sure, his father-in-law is a pain in the ass, but that’s as standard for the lifestyle as a two-car garage. His work as a claims adjuster for an insurance agency is not sexy, but he is diligent and thoughtful, and, within the parameters of the business, fair.

On closer examination, however, Scanlon dwells in a Potemkin village masquerading as a mid-size town in New Mexico. In a society where more than half of the population is a missed paycheck away from financial disaster, bailouts are for banks, and the Average Joe can’t afford the payments for a conscience. His is a life of quiet desperation in which crime is ultimately preferable to truth.

Scanlon becomes the Accidental Outlaw, stumbling through convenience store stick-ups and motel room robberies, yet still not able to make the mortgage payment. He befriends a burnt out police detective, Frank McTiernan, artfully portrayed by Jason Isaacs, and the two head out to the desert to fire their guns into abandoned living room furniture and mull over life’s little mysteries. McTiernan offers his own personal failures as a cautionary tale to Scanlon over pitchers of beer at the local bowling alley.

Things People Do is a small, quiet movie about large themes, in the vein of Tender Mercies, though not quite as successful. First time director Saar Klein worked previously as an editor for Terrence Malick on The Thin Red Line and The New World, and the lyrical opening scene of Scanlon and his family playing in the pool in the late afternoon sun validates the resume. “You were right,” his wife (Vinessa Shaw) says to Scanlon, referring to the pool, but it’s also an affirmation of his apparent success as husband and father. It’s one of the small moments that work so well in the film, even if the sentiment is rapidly undone by the situation that Scanlon toils feverishly to keep from his wife.

Caution: the synopsis – good man turns to life of crime – should not be misinterpreted. This is not an action movie like Falling Down nor is it a sardonic take on the theme like God Bless America. Director Klein, working from a screenplay he co-authored with Joe Conway, has fashioned a deliberate pace. The film, which premiered at the 64th Berlinale Film Festival in February, is generally effective in its approach, although the lead actor Bentley struggles at the end to convey Scanlon’s difficulty in keeping his most important secret buried.

Three stars.

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Comments
  1. romayka says:

    Wonderful description! This is what American life looks like on the outside: a typical family, a husband and a wife, with two kids. Beautiful. A boring life of a claim adjuster.

    I challenge the reader to humor me for a moment, and imagine a quite different American story. This would be about a wife of a transgender woman.

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