Mulholland Falls (1996)
Mulholland Falls (1996)

Genre: Crime Drama and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: April 26th, 1996 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Lee Tamahori Actors: Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Chazz Palminteri, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Treat Williams, Jennifer Connelly, Daniel Baldwin, Andrew McCarthy, John Malkovich, Kyle Chandler, Bruce Dern

 


 

“M

ulholland Falls” begins with a film noir vibe, aided by melancholy music and black-and-white archival footage, though it deviates from the classic formula by featuring explicit nudity (by a voluptuous Jennifer Connelly). Once the story proper begins, set in the ’50s, a foursome of dark-suited, gray-hatted LAPD cops seize Chicago gangster Jack Flynn (William Petersen). Without the benefit of a lawyer or a proper interrogation, Flynn is thrown from a cliff as a warning against trying to bring organized crime to Los Angeles.

Lieutenant Max Hoover (Nick Nolte) is the ringleader of the unorthodox, unethical lawmen, clearly operating outside the boundaries of due process. His associates, Eddie Hall (Michael Madsen), Elleroy Coolidge (Chazz Palminteri), and Arthur Relyea (Chris Penn), are wholly complicit in the lawbreaking, but they’re unafraid. Who would stand up to these top-tier, corrupt cops? The following day, Hoover and his team investigate the murder of a young woman, found facedown in a construction zone, looking as if flattened by a steamroller. Max acts as if he recognizes the girl, but doesn’t elaborate – not even to his wife, Katherine (Melanie Griffith), whom he returns to that evening in a drunken stupor.

Proceeding with its neo-noir components, a violent mystery arises. Curiously, the footage from the opening title scene returns very quickly, as if to exploit additional angles of Connelly’s naked frame (her breasts appear in more shots than she has lines of dialogue), failing to add anything to the solving of the crime. The only new information is that the cameraman is Jimmy Fields (Andrew McCarthy) and the prime suspect is General Thomas Timms (John Malkovich). The casting is rather impressive, considering that uncredited background roles extend to Bruce Dern, Rob Lowe, and Academy Award-winner Louise Fletcher. Feeling required to include prostitution, drugs, chain-smoking, drive-by-shootings, and flashbacks, the story gets seedier and the narrative more needlessly convoluted. At least there’s no sullen, droning voiceover narration to amplify the dourness.

“Jesus Christ! Call the cops!” “I am the cops.” Hoover is a generally disagreeable persona, conducting himself as if one of the very mobsters he so despises. Along with behaving irredeemably, his failure to fill in his partners with pertinent details only makes him more unlikable; he can’t even be faithful to his own corrupt unit. Inexplicably, the film tries to portray Max as a romantic leading man, primarily towards his wife, which is outrageous, since he throws temper tantrums, hurls insults, and strong-arms civilians in every other scene. “Mulholland Falls” is severely in need of some heroes.

Fortunately, the villains are just as sneaky and immoral as the protagonists, hoping to offset the deficiency in righteousness. Once the military gets involved, apprehending Max as he snoops around atomic proving grounds, a slew of additional brutes turn up, including FBI goons and yes-men anxious to cover up political complications. With its focus on grittiness rather than competent sleuthing, this neo-noir devolves into something of an actioner, with an unlikely yet boisterously satisfying climax. It may betray its genre intentions, but it’s nevertheless well-acted and routinely entertaining.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10