Roger Ebert summed this film up pretty well: "You might want to see [it] for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it." I'd argue (and I will, if you dare to read on) there are many reasons to see this film aside from merely its existence, but the essence of his quote rings true: this is a strange movie and if you're not willing to be a little adventurous as an audience member, chances are you won't appreciate The Fall.
Co-writer/Director: Tarsem (Singh)
Starring: Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru
Since this one is so far off the radar, here's my abbreviated synopsis, with minor plot spoilers: Set in a Los Angeles hospital around 1915, a little immigrant girl named Alexandria (who has fallen and broken her arm while working in an orange field) meets a man named Roy, a movie stunt man who injured himself on set while trying to impress his girlfriend. The girlfriend unceremoniously dumps him for the leading man in the movie, so Roy is suicidal. He starts telling stories to Alexandria to gain her trust, hoping to trick her into retrieving morphine for him so he can overdose and kill himself. The film weaves back and forth (Princess Bride style) between the hospital framing device and the epic tale as imagined by the young girl. Check out the trailer below.
As evidenced by that trailer, you can tell that this director is extremely visually-oriented. His only other film thus far was The Cell back in 2000; that film was extraordinarily under-rated and, though perverse in many ways, hauntingly watchable. Jennifer Lopez notwithstanding, The Cell is notable for outstanding cinematography and establishing a clear, original voice for Tarsem Singh (who has recently joined the douche-filled ranks of the One-Namers, cutting his last name and opting to be known only as "Tarsem" in the credits for The Fall). As a point of reference, this movie was released in 2006 and hit U.S. theaters in 2008. [Also, if you're going to rent it, you've gotta see the Blu-ray. Gorgeous.]
Getting back to the story at hand, The Fall succeeds in presenting the dichotomy of a dazzling world of massive landscapes, gorgeous terrain, and heightened caricatures with an intimate portrayal of a heartbroken man and a curious girl who has placed her hopes in his imagination. [In this way, it reminds me of the outstanding Pan's Labyrinth, one of my favorite movies from 2006. HIGHLY recommend it.] The filmmakers did a great job of placing us in the mindset of Alexandria by adding subconscious visual cues throughout the film to keep the audience relating to her. One example I'm thinking of (which you can see in the trailer) is the paint in the hospital hallways. The walls are painted a vivid green color when equal with Alexandria's height, representing her imaginative mind; this is contrasted with the drab tan of the walls when they reach adult height levels. A better example of the filmmakers shifting the audience's perspective in the child's favor is a tactic used brilliantly in The Wizard of Oz: many of the actors portray characters both in the "real life" hospital scenario and also within the confines of Roy's story to Alexandria.
Lee Pace (star of ABC's now-defunct "Pushing Daisies") was fantastic as the bedridden Roy, delivering a Cusack-esque performance that made his character instantly likable - even with his suicidal subplot. Obvious-first-time-actress Catinca Untaru was a weak link as far as acting goes, but the breathlessness of the movie and the way Roy's tale pulls you into the tale almost makes her performance a non-factor. Funny aside: Tarsem and Lee Pace decided before the production that Pace would actually be confined to a wheelchair for much of the shoot in order to evoke a more realistic performance from the girl.
The story within the story is a sprawling epic featuring bandits, explosives experts, bows and arrows, mystics, Charles Darwin (?!), monkeys, and some badass costumes. Seriously, the costume design from Eiko Ishioka is worth checking out, and costume design is rarely something that warrants mentioning from this writer. The secondary characters are given their own flamboyant color schemes, and the effect is sometimes similar to one achieved by those fighting movies like Kickboxer and The Quest to the extent that the characters seem like huge stereotypes because of their attire; unlike those fighting films, the situation these instances appear in The Fall is within an elaborate fairy tale, so the film doesn't need to adhere to the normal rules in that regard. Filming took place on 26 locations across 18 countries and took four years to complete. The visuals in The Fall are unlike anything I've ever seen, and the sheer magnitude of what you see on screen is mind-blowing at points. Tarsem claims that there are no special effects used in the entire film, which I find incredibly hard to believe. At one point, they stumble across a city painted blue at the base of a huge castle. That really exists? I guess I'd have to actually go there to prove him wrong, so Tarsem - 1, Pearson - 0. Touche, sir. He did get a live elephant to swim and filmed it underwater, so I guess I'll give him a little credit. Actually, a lot of credit. The dude's a freakin' genius.
I feel like I've sufficiently complimented every aspect of this movie that I can, since I really don't have many complaints I suppose I'll end the review here. If you're really into movies, I'd suggest checking this one out. But like I said - be prepared for some weirdness. It's not David Lynch-weird, but it's certainly not mainstream. The more movies I see, the more I appreciate productions like this that don't fit nicely into the Hollywood box. It's these films (lower budget, mostly independent) that I find myself loving far more than the blockbusters we get today. If you're getting tired of the same formulaic crap force-fed to you all the time, then The Fall is a breath of fresh air. I'd recommend a back-to-back screening with Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth for an optimum viewing experience. Until next time...
Trivia: Tarsem was at one point attached to direct a remake of Michael Crichton's Westworld, and is now slated to direct a movie called War of Gods for a 2010 release. The logline: "Greek warrior Theseus battles against imprisoned titans." Henry Cavill (Albert Mondego from The Count of Monte Cristo) is attached as Theseus.