His 2011 offering with Never Back Down: The Beatdown, came earlier and perpetuated White’s career behind the lens as well as in front, ultimately succeeding the now direct-to-home release franchise in the role of an ex-con who finds himself applying an old school hard edge to his method of teaching young, troubled students. One might even suggest the role as a worthy measure against the superb fighting prowess of Undisputed series protag, Uri Boyka, as the third installment advanced in Thailand with Never Back Down: No Surrender, pitting him against the towering Nathan Jones with cameos by Tony Jaa and Jeeja Yanin.
Michael Jai White (Spawn) stars in this action adventure as John “Falcon” Chapman, an ex-marine anti-hero plagued with a terrible secret consuming him with guilt. On the self-destructive edge, he learns his sister Cindy (Laila Ali) has been brutally beaten in the slums or “favelas” of Brazil and travels there to hunt down her attackers. In the process he discovers an underground world of drugs, prostitution, and police corruption ruled by the Japanese mafia and protected by the powerful Hirimoto (Masashi Odate, The Last Samurai). With incredible fight sequences and edge of your seat action, Falcon Rising is an in your face thrill-ride introducing America’s newest action hero.
If you are new to director Ernie Barbarash and you are just now hearing about his latest film, Falcon Rising, consider it an opportunity to a build another excellent fan relationship, especially if you are into action movies. Actor and humble martial arts action sensation Michael Jai White stars in the film, in a role he himself claims he was meant to play, and twenty five years and over seventy films in, it’s high time he got to.
White plays John “Falcon” Chapman a suicidal ex-marine suffering from PTSD, whose sister is mysteriously beaten and battered within inches of her life and left for dead within the Favelas of Brazil. He arrives to a world where the defining lines between the good guys and bad guys are often blurred, and when non-answers lead to more questions, he is forced to take matters in his own hands, doing what “Falcon” does best.
Falcon Rising is a small scale action thriller, shot on-location in Puerto Rico for the story’s backdrop set in Brazil. The movie carries an intense vibe centered mainly on White‘s starpower as one of the most popular action heroes to this day. And while he continually shows he still has what it takes as an athlete both off AND on-screen, he is an actor, first and foremost, and carries his role quite well, stealing only the scenes in which he’s forced to kick some major ass. And rightfully so!
Actress Laila Ali, daughter of boxing living legend Muhammad Ali, plays White’s sister, an NGO worker whose injuries become the very motive for Chapman’s maverick investigation into Brazil’s seedy underworld. Her scenes were great with White in this movie, and I enjoyed her performance as well, ultimately turning up in several portions of the film as the plot thickens, even when her character is incapacitated and fighting for her life. Essentially, her role turns out to be much more than what it is, making the rest of the movie a real treat to enjoy.
Neal McDonough plays Manny, Chapman’s former commanding officer now working as an American vice-counsul in Rio de Janeiro. He and White share some pretty good scenes together as McDonough‘s character evolves slightly more than just another supporting role behind the curtain. Actress Millie Ruperto plays Katrina Da Silva, a beat cop in Brazil whose job has familiarized her with an otherwise “unique” understanding about life on the other side of the badge.
Actor Jimmy Navarro plays detective Thiago Santo, whose behavior and true intentions are often masked by his use of the badge, waxing religion to justify his own purposes. His partner, Carlo Bororo, is played by Lateef Crowder Dos Santos, who falls in line with Santo when required, also making it pretty clear where he stands upon emergence of the character, Hirimoto, the movie’s central sword-wielding Yakuza crimelord played by Odate Masashi.
While avoiding spoilers here as best as possible, I will say the ending needed to be different in its precedence into sequel territory. To say the least, I like being surprised. In addition, there is not a lot to go on for Odate‘s role. His is pretty much that of a textbook villain, illustrated between scenes where only his voice can be heard, and in at least two other scenes with his character toying with his victims before gutting them. I would have liked to seen more of him in different layers, but maybe this is a good thing. It depends on the viewer, really.
Beyond this, I can accept that for a relatively low budget action thriller, for the most part, Falcon Rising still plays a lot of its cards right. The script and the acting are good, and nothing is really overplayed. In addition, a few small key roles, including that of actor Daniel Cardona, help sustain the film’s emotional value, which, at its core, lies in the central path of Chapman’s unforeseen journey toward redemption and healing. And to top it all off, watching White on the big screen is an awesome way to spend time at the movies.
Fight choreographer Larnell Stovall directed the hell out of the film’s principal action sequences, right down to the three-on-one stand off at the end. It’s some of Stovall‘s best work to date following his previous work with White in the first two webisodes of the 2011 series, Mortal Kombat Legacy. More particularly from an action standpoint, the film also marks a greater step for Dos Santos, a Capoeira impressario, actor and Hollywood stuntman who first popped up on my radar back many years ago as a pioneering member of the martial arts action stunt and indie film team, Zero Gravity; From his roots in shortfilms like Damn 3 and Title Pending 2, to breaking out on the big screen with the likes of Tony Jaa, Jon Foo, Chow Yun-Fat and Denzel Washington, it was amazing to see Dos Santos in his element, acting, as well as performing great choreo. It was perfect, and stands as a milestone celebration for all fans of action, especially indie.
Falcon Rising is a movie that perfectly illuminates all of White‘s strengths as a leading man in film without exploting some of the more prevalent real-world issues that exist today. It executes a great formula for what would have been an awesome hit for actor White a decade ago if Hollywood were smart, although at any rate, I’m glad he is finally getting his moment. And if you are smart, you will support this movie with the commercial success it needs, on top of the critical acclaim it is already receiving. White deserves it, and so does Barbarash.
The film is now available in select theaters around the U.S. and on Video-On-Demand. Visit the official page for Falcon Rising, or Michael Jai White’s official Facebook page to learn more about how and where you can catch the film. And look out for more updates and info on White‘s adventures in film.
Broadway World has brought the official press release announcing the details of Pound Of Flesh helmer Ernie Barbarash’s new martial arts action thriller, Falcon Rising, courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media. A poster has been unveiled as well, headlining the new film with lead actor and action star Michael Jai White front and center for what could be the start of its own multi-film franchise.
Lately I’m taking on a lot more things between writing for the site and obligations outside of my enthusiasm for film, so unfortunately I haven’t been able to feature as many interviews as I have and found myself trying to compensate by talking directly to filmmakers and stunt professionals to gain personal insight, and particularly for possible quotes as well.