The first thing the director of Warner Bros.’ upcoming supernatural thriller “Fallen” says, is that he doesn’t really want to talk too much about the story. “We don’t want to give this one away,” explains director Greg Hoblit. “It’s a little bit like the last movie I did, “Primal Fear,” where there are some twists as the movie moves along, but it’s a little more difficult in this movie, because things start to go sideways rather rapidly.”
Denzel Washington stars as John Hobbes, a homicide detective who finds himself trapped in a murder investiga-tion that may or may not be the work of a demonic serial killer. “The movie starts out as a cop genre movie,” says Hoblit, “then very quickly becomes something quite different.”
It was just this quality that initially attracted both Hoblit and Washington to Nick Kazan’s (“Reversal of Fortune”) script. “The first time that Denzel and I sat down to talk about the film he asked me why I wanted to do this,” says Hoblit. “I took a minute and then said ‘Because it’s not ordinary,’ and he said, ‘Me too.'”
Not ordinary is what happens to Denzel’s character after he tracks down a particularly heinous killer. The man is tried, convicted and executed, but his ritualistic crimes seem to continue on beyond his own death, mocking Den-zel’s detective as the evidence starts to turn inward on him, making him a prime suspect in his own investigation. Also linked to the killings are another series of murders that happened 30 years ago and involved another homicide detective who eventually took his own life.
Denzel’s Hobbes seeks out the daughter of this parallel detective, Gretta Milano, played by Embeth Davidtz (“Schindler’s List”), for answers. Knowing what happened to her own father, and sensing that it is happening all over again, she implores Hobbes not to get involved any further. But Hobbes, by the nature of his profession and the will of his own personality, cannot let it rest. As he proceeds on his dark journey, they are inexorably drawn to-gether by the creeping knowledge that only they seem able to share.
Also starring in the movie are John Goodman, playing Hobbes’ cynical partner, a cop just watching the clock until he gets his “20” in so he can draw his pension and retire; and Donald Sutherland as their commanding officer, a man who is willing to go only so far to protect his men when his own ass is on the line.
Shot half in L. A. and half on location in Philadelphia (standing in as an unnamed Eastern metropolis), the film uses the passage of the seasons, from autumn’s bright colors to winter’s bleak whiteness, to signal the changing course of the movie as it goes from detective thriller to something quite a bit more sinister and otherworldly. “It’s the marrying of two genres, the cop and the supernatural,” says Hoblit, who was able to bring his years of experi-ence on the TV series “Hill Street Blues” to the fore in working with writer Kazan to get the “cop procedurals” down just right.
For the supernatural side of the story, Hoblit and Kazan strove to create an internal logic that would be believable for both the story and the audience. “Both of these genres have rules,” Hoblit explains. “We just needed to combine them to create a whole new set.”
Hoblit says Washington helped immeasurably in this department. “His instincts are impeccable,” he says. “If there was ever a moment that was nonsensical, or defied logic, he’d find it and you could trust that he knew what he was talking about.
Part of the reason Hoblit feels Washington is so effective in this and other roles is his ability to play between the lines. “Denzel does more doing less than most actors I know of. He can just sit there in repose, not be uttering a word and he’ll still tell you a story. If you give him 15 seconds of nothing to do, he fills that 15 seconds up.”
This was a huge asset to Hoblit as a director since much of “Fallen” is very atmospheric and not dialogue driven. “There are long periods where there is virtually no dialogue at all,” says Hoblit. “And with Denzel having to move through both his world as a cop, and this supernatural world, trying to figure this thing out, we had to rely on him telling the story in terms of his body language, in terms of his facial expressions and in terms of what his eyes can do. Through all of those things, his intelligence just sort of leaks out.”
It is just this intelligence that Hoblit is counting on to propel the film when it is released later this year or early next year. For the time being, though, that is all he is willing to tell, preferring instead not to give this one away.