“The Fall” takes place in a hospital on the outskirts of Los Angeles in the early 20th century. A five-year-old girl from India with a broken arm, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), befriends a young injured stuntman, Roy Walker (Lee Pace). He tells her a fanciful story of five bandits’ journey to slay the evil Governor Odious. There is the slave, the demolition’s expert, the bandit, Charles Darwin (sure, why not) and the Indian (otherwise known as the Blatant Racial Stereotype… or is that the slave?). But as the tale wears on it becomes clear that this fantasy is all too clearly the story of Pace’s tragic life.
Watching “The Fall” is like watching a National Geographic photograph in motion. The images are crisp, clean and colorful. It’s worth watching just for the amazing cinematography, but luckily the plotline is great too. What begins as an innocent fantasy soon contorts into a dark and disturbing reality.
Pace does an incredible job in each of his roles, both as the masked bandit and as Roy Walker (although it can be argued that it’s actually one role). Although I had a problem with a lot of the dialogue in the fantasy sequences, which I’ll discuss, Pace magnificently carries out the bandit’s transformation from a child’s fantasy character to tragic Hellenistic hero. Untaru, too, is uniquely charming, which is rare for a child actor.
I can only complain about a few things. Some of the dialogue during the fantasy sequences can get a bit corny, as if they were amateur improv scenes. I understand that Tarsem Singh, the director, was going for storybook-style voice work during these sequences, but at times it falls flat. There are also other issues that others may complain about, such as logic gaps, but these only occur during what is supposed to be an orally told fantasy story (why is Darwin wearing an enormous fur coat in a desert? Who cares, it’s not supposed to make sense). At times the audience is even reminded of the natural malleability of this visual rhetoric by directly merging Walker’s dialogue with that of the bandit’s, so that the bandit will be talking about “real life” situations when, in fact, this is just Walker speaking to Alexandria.
Without spoiling anything, there is one particular scene at the end that bothers me. The film is capped off with an inexplicably long sequence of strung together stuntman clips from 1920s Hollywood. The only thing it did was dilute the potency of the ending while over-emphasizing an aspect of the film that, while important, didn’t seem to carry enough weight to warrant such a lengthy nod.
“The Fall’s” lush imagery, which was filmed over the span of four years in several different countries, will take you through bright orange deserts, ancient tribal forests and a vast blue city. The disjointed and sporadic scenery plays well with the tragic narrative, providing metaphysical breaths of fresh air that can be viewed as pictorial versions of Shakespearean comedic relief. I was fortunate enough to view it on an HD-quality screen, and it shouldn’t be viewed any other way. You’ll either love it or hate it, but any ultra-creative independent film that wildly departs from all the usual mainstream crap is certainly worth taking a look at.