The Fall is a story of manipulation, with control of the strings being pulled switching from storyteller to listener and back again.
Roy Walker (Lee Pace), a bit part actor in the 1920s, is hospitalised after a fall from a bridge during filming. Nearby to his all-male ward, a young girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), is also recuperating. She’s an immigrant who works long hours with her fatherless family, picking oranges in the California groves and the only thing to take her away from that life temporarily is a broken arm from a fall from a tree.
Roy’s injuries are much more serious, possibly crippling. He’s suffering from a blinding depression, a result of his fall and a broken heart from the recent rejection by his girlfriend for the leading man in the same film that caused his current condition.
Roy beguiles young Alexandria by befriending and enthralling her with stories. He starts with the story of Alexander The Great, hoping the connection to her name will appeal. When it doesn’t, he quickly uses clues from any facts she’s shared with him to tailor the story to her liking and to his own end.
It’s the telling of these tales that takes us away from the confines of the hospital to some of the most gorgeous and exotic locations on Earth.
Roy weaves a story of a masked bandit, avenging his brother’s death, accompanied by a band of heroic followers who also have vengeance in their hearts. Into each of the roles Alexandria places the men and women who are a part of her life – doctors, nurses and hospital workers, orange pickers and Roy’s visitors.
As the stories continue, their control is flip-flopped as Alexandria drives them in her own direction, replacing her deceased father with Roy as the hero of the tale as she becomes besotted with him. But, don’t worry; this is a child’s infatuation and Roy has no evil intent except for himself.
That said, this is not a movie for children. Even with a child in the leading role and the fantasy elements, this is a drama. Alexandria witnesses things no child should see and, although it’s an important part of the real-life hospital story, it’s hard to watch with such a young actress in the scenes.
Part of the impact is because of the naiveté of the starring Catinca Untaru. Her hesitant, broken English is real, and her screen time feels as though, if it wasn’t improvised, it’s at least unpractised. Rather than giving an impression of amateur acting, it infuses every scene with an authenticity, which is in very dramatic contrast to the tall tale being told by Roy.
Other examples of manipulation exist, even in what may appear to be trifling scenes, such as when Alexandria translates for her mother during a conversation with her doctor.
The director, Tarsem Singh, credited as simply ‘Tarsem’ for reasons revealed on one of the supplemental soundtracks, had previously worked on commercials and The Cell, a film which was slated for its story but lauded for its imagery. And that praised talent is in spades in The Fall.
From the opening slow-motion scene during the credits, you know you’re in for a visual treat. There are a few dissolve scenes, which, although some may find slightly gimmicky, are so perfect in their execution that they can’t fail to impress. Almost without exception, you could pause any one of the story scenes, frame it and hang it. They’re that beautiful. Connoisseurs of costumes and locations, natural and architectural, could watch the movie muted and be happy.
But the story here, and how real life events shape both patients’ lives, and how the fabricated story is torn and shredded to achieve a desired conclusion, is as compelling as the images. Especially for anyone who appreciates impromptu storytelling for children – how it changes to include the most current concerns in their lives. (A strength, incidentally, this reviewer saw in M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady In The Water, though one that may evade those who’ve never conjured up their own children’s story at bedtime.)
All the adult actors, taking on dual roles in the hospital scenes and the fantastic tale that unravels to a dramatic end, excel at each half, with Julian Bleach’s (Torchwood, Doctor Who) performance as the Mystic standing out as amazing, both with what it requires of him and the practical limitations he uses to extremely good effect.
As a big fan of Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies) and the striking cinematography, I’d be tempted to award full stars to this film. However, if I rein in my admiration and view it more objectively, many of the scenes are stationary and nearly motionless. Stylistically, this works very well, and personally, it’s a welcome relief from today’s frantic camerawork, but for a lot of viewers, all but the high action scenes will feel a bit stifled and lifeless. When those travelling shots and active scenes do come, however, they’re mesmerising.
Extras The DVD disc includes two commentary tracks, one with Lee Pace and writer, Dan Gilroy, and writer/co-producer, Nico Soultanakis. The other is the director on his own. This is a perfect way to handle commentaries. There’s none of the synchronized backslapping, condescension, or false praise flying around the sound studio that can occur when directors and others are recorded together. Each was one of the most relaxed, but on track and, I suspect, honest commentaries I’ve heard in quite a while, helped by the fact that they were recorded more than four years after the film was completed, so looked at with fresh eyes by the participants and with nothing to be gained by gilding. The director is unashamed in pointing out mistakes he made and what he considers bad performances from others. Pace, Gilroy and Soultanakis discuss directions the film was intended to take but were sidelined or detoured.
It’s during the commentaries that listeners will learn the full extent of the film’s theme of manipulation and how it extended to the filming itself, as facts are revealed about the cast, crew, and director that no-one could have guessed on just seeing the final product. Tarsem does tend to come across as a little too blunt at times, especially where he comments about child extras, revealing more than anyone would want faceless millions to know.
Two extensive ‘Behind-The-Scenes’ films are included, Wanderlust (28:15) and Nostalgia (30:01), both more in the form of travelogues due to all the locations for filming – about two dozen countries altogether. Each was entertaining and revealing. Some of the director’s techniques for getting satisfactory performances out of a very young, very inexperienced girl may be a bit shocking. Yet, they’re included, with no apologies and seemingly nothing to hide.
Except for the unavoidable ads that are so contrary to the mood of the featured film and the trailer that should be avoided at all costs, because it reveals far too much, this disc should be the template for content on all DVDs with none of the unnecessary filler and only two deleted scenes, each very deserving of their time and space. All the extras are accessible from menus that are as attractive as you’d expect of a film that features such fantastic location shots and brilliant, colourful costumes.
If a fact’s worthy of mention, it’s in the commentaries with the film as it’s meant to be seen, not in bits and pieces scattered about endless ‘bonus’ options, which doesn’t leave you wanting more except to play the movie in its entirety again.
In fact, I did exactly that, for this review. I watched it three times through from start to finish with each of the soundtracks, and never once thought it a chore – the ultimate compliment to a beautiful film.