Movie Review: Mulholland Falls (1996)

mulholland-fallsby Brad Nelson   5/25/14
Sometimes it’s difficult figuring out why I have such great taste and the movie-going population, at large, does not. This movie is rated a meager 6.2 at IMDB.com. I guess you could say this is a grown-up film not made for text-messaging attention spans.

Mulholland Falls is a good modern film noir/crime drama. It’s set in the fifties and the attention to detail for that period is superb. It might have been a smart move to film this in black-and-white, but it works in color.

This is one of the best roles I’ve seen Nick Nolte play. He leads a team of easy-going (but extremely hard-hitting) cops, a special unit of four who report directly to one boss. In that way, they have more than a little latitude to handle things the old-fashioned way. And Nolte gets a lot of mileage out of his simple sap (a heavy leather, probably lead-filled, truncheon).

The cast is superb. You have no less than 10 name (or semi-name) actors: Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Chazz Palminteri (who we saw recently in his excellent role in A Bronx Tale), Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Treat Williams, Jennifer Connelly, Daniel Baldwin (well, not so name), Andrew McCarthy (no, the other guy), Kyle Chandler (Early Edition), and John Malkovich.

Nolte, as detective Max Hoover, is on the case of a murdered woman. And things become a little personal because he has a past with the woman…as do a couple other people, including Malkovich who plays General Thomas Timms, head of an atomic energy commission project out in the desert. It’s all hush-hush. Big bomb craters, fallout, and all that.

NolteThe plot isn’t overly complicated (a godsend, if you ask me — too many movies simply add on layers of convolution instead of writing a good movie). It’s the characters who drive this film, especially Nolte. He’s a good guy (generally speaking) but dangerous as hell with his sap. Chazz Palminteri plays his sympathetic and loyal partner, Elleroy Coolidge. He’s a nice guy…but can bust heads with the best of them. And he’s got Nolte’s back even if Nolte doesn’t necessarily want him there.

This is not a car-crash-a-minute kind of movie, so it’s not likely to appeal to the ADHD sugar-rush crowd. That’s not to say that this is an “intelligent” film, but it is somewhat of an adult film in that you’re looking at arguably real people, not dumb, spazzed-up, goofball stereotypes. If you like film noir, you will like this movie. If you think Spider-Man 3 is the best thing since Citizen Kane, then go have a nice day and don’t spill your fruit juice.

Thanks to Glenn for mentioning this film. He didn’t necessarily endorse it, but he did say that Chazz is good in it, which he is. • (1816 views)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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12 Responses to Movie Review: Mulholland Falls (1996)

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Well, I’ve certainly seen my share of noir films, particularly when Alfred Hitchcock did them (Rear Window, for example, comes from a short story by Cornell Woolrich, and I would think that Vertigo would be considered noir as well), so this might be a possibility if I come across it on one of the old movie channels like TCM or AMC. As for complex plots, those can be well done, cf. Witness for the Prosecution.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The Noir category is pretty much an ex post facto situation of nomenclature. I thought this was an obvious film noir, but IMDB didn’t list it as such. But the movie fits because it is gritty, dangerous, and there’s a dame who is central to the story.

      Rear Window is one of the few truly great movies, and I think it’s Hitchcock’s best. It’s in my top ten movies of all time…maybe in the top 5.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I think I’d go with The Man Who Knew Too Much over Rear Window, but then I really like all the Hitchcock movies with Jimmy Stewart as the star (of course, it helps that Rope was inspired by Leopold and Loeb). By contrast, of the Cary Grant Hitchcock movies, I would only list North by Northwest as first-class (which doesn’t make the others bad, just not as good as the Stewart movies). I once read that Stewart in his Hitchcock movies tended to play someone much like Hitchcock as he really was, whereas Grant tended to play someone more like Hitchcock as he wished to be.

  2. steve lancaster says:

    Agreed, almost anything about LA in the late 40’s and early 50’s and has LAPD would qualify as noir. One of the best of the group is True Confessions with Devall and De Niro. These guys could read the phone book and make a great movie. But to make it better the script and the book were by John Gregory Dunne with supporting cast of Burgess Meredith, Cyril Cusack and Charles Durning in short the film drips with talented actors doing what they do best.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I think I’ve seen “True Confessions,” and I remember it as being pretty good.

      These guys could read the phone book and make a great movie.

      No friggin’ kidding.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Well, I’d be more interested in Burgess Meredith. I recall him not only as the Penguin in the old Batman series (I was on a panel discussing the series last year at InConJunction, bringing with me my copy of Adam West’s book on the show), but also from The Twilight Zone (of course). He starred in at least 3 top grade episodes, 2 of which (“The Obsolete Man” and “Printer’s Devil”) could be considered conservative today (though not at the time, when liberalism hadn’t yet become christophobic). He was also the narrator of a special on the KGB in the 1980s.

  3. Rosalys says:

    Don’t you mean lead-filled?

  4. Glenn Fairman says:

    I liked this film when I saw it and would like to catch it again. “L.A. Confidential,” another film about cops in the city of angels is brought to mind. That film helped put Mr. Crowe on the map and exists at the epitome of the nouveau noir genre.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      L.A. Confidential

      I can’t remember ever seeing that one, so I’m on it.

      (Some people have personal trainers. I have personal movie suggesters.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I watched “L.A. Confidential” the other day, per Glenn’s recommendation. It and “Mulholland Falls” are very much cut from the same vein.

      I preferred “Mulholland Falls.” I thought the plot was less gadgety, the characters more realistic, and the general tone more darkly noir suave.

      That stand-out in “L.A. Confidential” was Guy Pearce as the obnoxious goody-two-shoes young lieutenant. He and Russell Crowe certainly are joined at the hip in terms of a relationship where there is character development on both sides. That is the bet set in the movie, even including Basinger.

      But I thought the plot was a bit gimmicky the way there were just so many bad cops. Kevin Spacey is good, but his side story as the technical advisor to a cop TV show doesn’t really go anywhere and adds little to the film. That’s too bad because I really liked his character. Cromwell is okay as the bad guy and Basinger is okay as the femme fatale, which is a common attribute of a noir.

      Don Rifkin is good as the D.A. who is caught in the web of blackmail spun by Cromwell & Co. But there are just so many elements thrown into this movie. I would have rather seen this character a bit more in detail and his problems developed more. You come away from this movie with the slight impression that the film makers threw enough spaghetti at the wall just to see what would stick. In “Mulholland Falls” the film lives or dies on Nolte and his predicament without a lot of spaghetti-throwing.

  5. Glenn Fairman says:

    Rotten Tomatoes gave LA Con an aggregate 99% rating and it was nominated for 7 academy awards……so at least it had that going for it…….

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