Director: Tarsem Singh (The Cell)
Writers: Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis, Tarsem Singh
Producer: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell, Lee Pace, Kim Uylenbroek, Aiden Lithgow
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 117 min
Director Tarsem Singh has been on a several year hiatus from making feature length films since his debut eight years ago with The Cell, which starred Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn and Vincent D’Onofrio; quite an impressive film actually for a directorial debut. Unfortunately, Singh’s flair for the original storytelling and quality directing seems to not have aged well with time. Instead it looks like he has sacrificed story for a visual palette that is nice to look at.
Taking place in the mid-1920’s at a countryside hospital, a young girl anxiously waits healing from her broken arm. To help pass the time, she regularly visits a young stunt man (Lee Pace) who paralyzed his legs during a film shoot. While she waits to escape the hospital, he hopes to escape his life. Using the little girl to help him get pills to swallow, he entices her by telling her an “epic” story of love and adventure, which slowly evolves into including the young girl and himself within the story. We see the story as he tells it through via little girl’s imagination. To get her to bring him more pills to swallow, he continually stops the story and promises to continue when she returns with more drugs.
Before completely ripping apart the movie, I’d mention a few qualities it does have that keep it from being completely unwatchable. First and foremost, which one can gather from the trailer, are the stunning visuals. Yes, it definitely looks really pretty and has some unique set designs and the costuming department definitely deserves some praise. Sometimes a film like this can capture my attention and I’m able to overlook a lot of flaws just because everything else looks so grand. Alas, this was not one of those films. However, even more interesting is to note that none of this was made using computer generated effects. Which if I think back to what I’ve seen in this picture is, like Arronfsky’s The Fountain, quite impressive. Again, NO CGI. Wow.
Secondly, the performance of the little girl must be noted. Catinca Untaru in her film debut is quite the little charmer and is cute as a button and appears totally natural. Two things that I think account for this. One, her native language is clearly not English. So to hide the fact that maybe she’s not up to par with someone of more maturity, it is covered up by what appears to be just a struggling with the English language. It’s quite ingenious actually and I rather enjoyed the performance because of this. Secondly, roughly 85% of her screen/dialogue time is spent sitting on a bed with the young man conversing back and forth about the story. It seems quite clear that a lot/most of these sequences were ad-libbed and extemporaneous. In this way the film maker is able to capture the little girl in a seemingly natural setting with co-star Pace there to help guide the direction of the conversation, rather than watching her struggle to remember lines of scripted dialogue. Though noticeable, it works well in capturing a child actor, who are notorious for being difficult subjects to film realistically.
The rest of the film feels clunky and disjointed. It’s difficult not to make comparisons with Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth here. Both films follow the parallel stories of a young girl’s real life and the realm of her fantasy world. While Pan’s was able to easily transition and flow between the two “worlds,” The Fall just feels “herky-jerky” and bumpy. The transitions are simply too jarring. Just as something interesting is happening, or about to happen, we’re removed from the story and brought back to the real world or vice-versa. Nothing ever flows well throughout the story. Also, while the worlds within Pan’s run parallel to one another and sort of have something to do with one another, The Fall has two completely separate story lines which have nothing to do with one another (until the end when it becomes convenient (not necessary) for the story to do so). So we’re forced to follow two completely different stories at the same time; which in and of itself is distracting.
But the biggest problem is the simple fact that neither of the two stories are particularly interesting in the slightest. Things seem to start off well enough with a set-up for a fast paced, adventure story with great, interesting and deep characters; told from the perspective of someone equally as deep and interesting. Unfortunately it just never goes anywhere and nothing terribly interesting or exciting ever happens. I don’t necessarily need speed or excitement in the movies that I watch, but when that is what is set up and that is what is promised and it fails to deliver, I feel disappointed and borderline upset when I don’t get what’s promised. After more than an hour, when I realized there wasn’t enough running time left to bring the audience into an interesting epic, the film had failed me and already I started looking for ways to pick apart the movie.
Hence the flat acting is bothersome. Besides Pace and Untaru, who are serviceable in their roles, most of the other characters in the movie, despite looking like hearty and interesting souls, completely fall flat and are frankly pretty boring. The acting alone is not completely to blame. A major part of the problem is that the script doesn’t give us any depth as to who these characters are as people. We simply don’t care about any of them. They are there and they do some things, but none of it is of worth.
With jumps in logic in the already uninteresting storyline towards the end of the movie, it was difficult not to just harrumph my way through the final ten minutes. To quickly tie up the story, the script calls for some storytelling tactics that are, I’m sorry to say, just plain stupid and don’t fit with the rest of the style of the film.
By the end of The Fall, I was so anxious to get up and leave the theater that it almost hurt. I really wanted to like the movie and when I’m as disappointed as I was here, instead of feeling hurt or moved, I just get upset and angry. Do yourself a favor and re-watch Tarsem’s 2000 debut, The Cell. It may be a bit simplistic, but at least it’s adventuresome, interesting and even exciting. Not so with his latest effort; which, despite its beautiful palette, is unfortunately quite drab.
Click “play” to see the trailer: