By: Andrew Ward (Three Beers) –
Tarsem Singh’s The Fall is a visually amazing film that came about after four years of filming and shooting in over twenty countries. Landscapes, scenery, and certain camera shots have to rank as some of the best in cinema history. Tarsem sank his own money into the project to avoid any outside creative interruptions. It’s a commendable task, but it does become clear that while the visuals are superb, there are key components to the film that are lacking. Mainly because The Fall is a simple story, cleverly told with an elaborate backdrop trying to compensate.
The Fall tells the story of a recently paralyzed silent film star, Roy (Lee Pace), who is recovering in his Los Angeles hospital. Roy befriends a fellow hospital patient, six-year-old Alexandria. They develop a relationship on the basis that both have had falls that have brought them to the hospital. Roy realizes he can use Alexandria to his advantage by telling her this elaborate story of revenge that bands together four men: the Masked Bandit, an escaped African slave, the Indian, and Charles Darwin (with his pet monkey Wallace). They go after the General Odious, who has wronged these men all in some way. As Roy reveals the story Alexandria’s mind wanders and the viewer gets to see the story through her eyes. That is until Roy stops at opportune moments to convince her to do his bidding in an attempt to end his own suffering.
Tarsem claims that The Fall used no special effects. With some of the shots it is almost unbelievable. If it is true then the idea that Chris Nolan didn’t use special effects in the Dark Knight seems like an obvious directorial move and films that are using special effects are taking the easy way out. There is one scene in particular that starts as a close-up shot of a “stony faced priest” that quickly transitions to a white desert. Without revealing its outcome I will say it is my favorite transition and effect any film has done… even better than all of the star wipes I’ve seen on Nickelodeon. Roger Ebert said in his review of the film that you might want to see this film solely on the purpose that there is no other film like this. And he’s right.
Anything you can do Tarsem can do better…except tell a story.
Unfortunately, The Fall fails to have a story that backs up the stunning visuals. Don’t get me wrong, the story is still good. This is more so recognition to the creativity with which the story is given rather than to the story itself. Roy tells the story, but the viewer sees what Alexandria thinks. For example, the Indian is supposed to be a Native American, but Alexandria has not seen anyone like this so she envisions a man from India. What is also creative is that everyone plays dual roles. The African slave is actually the man she sees delivering ice to the hospital, the lead female in the story is actually her nurse, and Roy is the hero. And just like any kid will do, Alexandria finds a way into the story as well.
The problem with this is that the story is good, but it could have been so much better with just a bit more depth. The more intriguing story is what is going on outside of Alexandria’s mind. Roy’s struggle with his injury and Alexandria’s naivety to help her friend unfolds in a much more fulfilling manner. While some will argue that this is the main story, it seems that both stories should have had this equal depth. Then again, what child wants to hear that much depth in a story?
At some point the film seems as if Tarsem is trying to show everyone how talented he is and that the rest of story doesn’t need to be given as much attention. It’s like watching an NBA basketball player that knows they are the only star on the team. If the share of the responsibilities were shared with the others on the team maybe this would have been a more complete contender.
Well-developed story? We talkin’ bout a well-developed story?
The Fall is a great film. It’s one of my favorites, but that doesn’t mean it is flawless. In my previous review of Takashi Miike’s Audition I faulted the film for having too much of a good thing in the editing department. The Fall is in the same category with its visuals. They are far and beyond the best any film has put out. Mind-blowing doesn’t even do it justice. It is clear how hard Tarsem and his team worked to make this film what it was.
With that being said, visuals that stunning need a story just as stunning. And no matter how creative this revenge story was told, somewhere it fell short of reaching the expectations of what the scenery had painted. Go see this film. Be amazed and hope that Tarsem can do something nearly as good sometime in the future. Better yet, hope anyone can do something like this again.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: when you’re impressed by a camera shot/scene.
Take a Drink: when you are confused by something Alexandria says.
Take a Shot: whenever Alexandria’s interpretation of the story is interrupted.