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The Fall

A movie directed by Tarsem Singh

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The Fall -- Dramatic fable driven by tremendous eye candy and emotional range past visible spectrum

  • Oct 13, 2010

The Fall is a tale of magical realism told by a suicidal stuntman to a young migrant girl as both convalesce in a Los Angeles hospital.

(11 or 12) throws a letter out a window—it is intended for a nurse. The wind blows it into Roy’s bed (Roy is in his early 20s). The pair meet when she goes to retrieve the letter.

He apparently injured his back doing a nearly impossible stunt, so he is bed ridden. Alexandria broke her arm and shoulder after falling from a tree in an orange grove she worked with her family. She uses her immobilized arm to carry her keepsake box held out like a stinky talisman. She intends to put the errant letter in it so she can deliver it later. While the box is open, Roy sees a photo of Alexandria, her family, and a couple of other migrant workers.

First, out of boredom or a need for distraction, Roy begins telling a revenge fantasy. As he shapes the story, he
uses some of Alexandria’s suggestions, particularly with regards to characters. Five men have been exiled to a tiny atoll. A fugitive slave, an Italian demolition expert, a tacit Indian, Charles Darwin, and a pirate . . . oops . . . bandit escape the atoll then wander the planet seeking Governor Odious, instrument of their exile.

The film is set in Hollywood’s early days when serial movies were king—each episode ending in a cliffhanger guaranteeing a predictable audience week to week. Roy tells his fable in this format. Once he realizes he has Alexandria hooked on the story, he refuses to continue until she consents to steal morphine that he can use to overdose. The tale, obviously, begins to take on a far darker tone. If I go any farther with the summary, I will ruin a vibrant, but very careful plot.

The Fall is not an ensem
ble piece. The supporting cast does just that—they play their supporting roles well. They are not brilliant; they are not bad; they never upstage. However dismissive this may sound, they are as flawless with their skills as the two main characters.

Cantica Untaru (Alexandria) and Lee Pace (Roy) are fantastic, entirely believable and entirely consistent. Their abilities show most plainly as the film’s emotions nose dive into the darker realm. They never lapse into the clichéd maudlin typical for a child-like fantasy spinning toward tragedy.

Child actors playing leading roles will make or break a film; this risk increases terrifically when the movie is a drama where cuteness alone will not cut it. Ms. Untaru’s performance is in line with Tatum O’Neal’s in Paper Moon and Keisha Castle-Hughes’s Whale Rider. Sadly, she likely shares what appears to be the fact that this will be her
only film (or at least the only one that anyone remembers).

Tashem Singh took Dan Gilroy’s and Nico Soultanakis’s screenplay over the top. The fable is filmed as an epic: huge landscapes, massive interiors. There are no drab colors or sounds. While over the top it never truly overwhelms despite literally covering the globe. The lengthy scenes are filmed in California, Britain, India, and South Africa
; but there are scenes in China, Cambodia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile—I’d love to have traveled along or just collected frequent flier miles. I stayed clearly in “wow” mode, never passing into the “ok, now you’ve gone too far” mode.

The story is wry and most of the humor is subtle despite what at times seemed over-emotive, or truly absurd—the way Charles Darwin is presented, particularly with his monkey named Wallace is so joshingly sarcastic, I could almost write full essay covering its complexity. The thing that stood out most, though, is whose imagination shows the tale. Roy narrates it, but we see all of it through Alexandria. This is most clear and funny based on the interpretation of “Indian.” Roy casts his “Indian” as Native American, but we see the turbaned Indian that Alexandria imagines. Also, as the themes get mature beyond the experience of a 12 year-old, the visuals get somewhat chaotic, adding another layer of strange authenticity to a fantastic (in both original and more common uses of the word) story.

The only thing I can fault is the change in tone at the end. This change makes sense but happens suddenly, breaking the otherwise seamless progression and pacing. Since Mr. Singh maintains a well made fable, this hiccup stood out more than it might have had the film been less solid. Still, I recommend the film without reservation.

A couple of final thoughts. The Fall is rated R “for some violent images.” I have no idea which prudish MPAA member decided this; all Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies had more violent images (each in their own way themed and framed in the weekly serial movies used in this film). I don’t know if The Fall would have had gotten more attention had it been rated more correctly, but being R rated certainly did little to help.

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More The Fall reviews
review by . June 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****     It's so typical of most critics to attack a film that shows them something that they have never seen before. Critics claim that they understand what the term "art" really means, but is this so true? The purpose of art is to divide opinions. Or at least I believe that is one of its purposes. So maybe it is understandable that a very large amount of critics would dislike a film as bewildering as "The Fall". But is the purpose of art not to also entertain through …
Quick Tip by . October 14, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This quick tip is tied to my list of movies driven by strong child actors/characters.      Catinca Untaru was 11 during the filming for this brilliant movie.  She stands toe to toe (there is a silly pun here if you've seen the film) with veteran Lee Pace to create an amazing fable that wows and crushes.      More than one reviewer has said that Ms Untaru wasn't acting her part, she was living it.  I sincerely hope it is the former because …
review by . November 04, 2009
This is probably the most visually intriguing movie that I have seen in years, if not ever. This fact is quite remarkable considering that the director Tarsem Singh has hardly used any special effects, but has rather opted to rely heavily on imaginative costumes and elaborate and exotic locations which were enhanced with the stunning cinematography. The movie tells a story of a 1920s stuntman who falls off a horse while filming a particularly daring scene. While recovering in a hospital, he befriends …
review by . September 20, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
A troubled young man, recuperating from a suicidal stunt and a broken heart, meets a precocious little girl with a broken arm. He begins to tell her a story, but is secretly intending to use her to get morphine that will allow him to take his own life.     The Fall is one of those rare films that is both a unique work of cinematic art and a crowd-pleasing gem. It is both beautiful to look at and has depth that is not apparent on a first viewing. For beauty and depth and for its …
review by . March 28, 2009
THE FALL is one of the more stunningly beautiful cinematic works to be created in recent years. Vibrant young director Tarsem Singh, born in India and trained at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, produced, directed and wrote (with Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis, and Valery Petrov) this magical tale that blends fantasy, illusion, dreams, and altered reality with one of the more touching stories imaginable. The film takes many risks and for this viewer they all work. With only one other …
review by . July 09, 2008
I remember the days when I had stories read to me. I remember how it made me feel. Me and about twenty other kids would gather at the teacher's feet, and I would actually imagine the story unfolding as she read aloud. I think we all have those memories buried somewhere within, those wonderful moments when the spoken word transcends mere speech and becomes a definite vision. Tarsem's "The Fall" works in much the same way, not only for the characters, but also for the audience; reality and fantasy …
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Roger Ebert proclaimed it "one of the most extraordinary films I've ever seen," and there's no denying the avalanche of wild images inThe Fall: grand castles, desert vistas, elephants swimming in the open ocean. Commercial and music-video director Tarsem has piled these visions into an elaborate remake of an obscure Bulgarian film, Yo Ho Ho, which is anchored in (but by no means limited to) a quiet hospital during the silent-movie era. A stunt man (Lee Pace) is laid up with leg injuries, and an eye-popping black-and-white prologue (utterly mystifying while we're watching it) tells us how he got here. Depressed over his disability and a recent lost love, he plans suicide, but is temporarily derailed by the inquisitive friendship of a little girl (Catinca Untaru), to whom he tells wild stories of adventurers and princesses. We see these stories, which is where the dizzying visuals come in. This movie probably won't inspire many lukewarm responses: either you'll fall madly for this paean to storytelling magic, or you'll be suspicious about the parade of pretty pictures, which tend to have a magazine-layout sheen. The movie certainly has more soul than Tarsem's yucky previous feature,The Cell, and the scenes between Pace and Untaru (who scores an 11 on the cuteness scale) are genuinely charming. The director actually put a considerable amount of his own money into the production (which shot in over 20 countries), and whether you buy his ...
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Cast: Lee Pace
Director: Tarsem Singh
DVD Release Date: September 9, 2008
Runtime: 117 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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