Movie News & Reviews

'The Fall' dazzles

The tagline for the film "The Fall" is "a little blessing in disguise" referring to the little girl at its center, but is also an excellent description of the film as a whole.

Floating around since 2006, this eye-popping "little blessing" of a movie is only now trickling into the Triangle. Thanks in part to heavy hitter directors David Fincher and Spike Jonze backing its distribution, "The Fall" may find the wider audience it so richly deserves. The film combines the meticulous attention to detail Fincher is known for with the flair for flamboyant visuals that are a Jonze trademark, so it's no wonder these two directors consider "The Fall" a certifiable masterpiece.

Directed by Tarsem Singh Dhandwar -- who now goes by Tarsem alone -- "The Fall" is a stunning parade of sights seldom achieved outside of a Kubrick or a Fellini film. Shot in an astounding 26 locations in 18 countries "The Fall" is, if nothing else, an exotic travelogue worth the price of admission.

Set in the 1920s in a hospital on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the film is a dark fable of redemption that is both magical fairy tale and bleak melodrama. Like the underrated "Tideland" by Terry Gilliam, it uses a child's vivid imagination to make sense of the fractured adult world she inhabits.

The "fractured adult" is a bedridden stuntman named Roy Walker who has injured himself in a suicide attempt. He has lost his true love (to a matinee idol) and, hence, his will to live. When he encounters mischievous fellow patient Alexandria, a little girl who has broken her arm in a fall, he hatches a plan to use her to inadvertently aid him in another stab at self-destruction. He begins to spin an epic tale of five disparate characters who band together to vanquish an evil governor who has caused mayhem and misery in their individual lives. The characters include a dashing bandit who wishes to free his imprisoned twin brother, and naturalist Charles Darwin, who is seeking revenge for the taunting governor's casual killing of an elusive rare butterfly.

Adding a princess and a sensitive sad-eyed monkey to the mix, Roy quickly hooks Alexandria with his enthralling tale of a heroic quest for justice. The catch is Alexandria must steal morphine for him to continue installments of the story. As Roy's plan and fanciful yarn progress, the delicate line between reality and fantasy begin to blur for young Alexandria with both taking a decidedly darker turn.

"The Fall" is the first film from Tarsem since 2000's trippy yet shallow horror opus "The Cell" and lacks the starpower of a Vince Vaughn or a J. Lo that made that film a modest success. This is unfortunate because "The Fall" shows the steady maturation of a filmmaker who first gained accolades for his striking music video for R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion." The casting of relative unknowns, while enhancing the mystique of the film, sadly hampers its box office appeal. However, the actors more than make up for their anonymity with fine performances.

Lee Pace of TV's "Wonderfalls" and "Pushing Daisies" invests Roy with an easygoing soulfulness, and Romanian child actress Catinca Untaru, in her first role, is a little butterball of wonder as Alexandria in a true star-making turn.

If there is fault to be found with "The Fall," it is with its somewhat noticeable lack of narrative and character "meat" with its pretty potatoes; in fact, a 2000 documentary on Tarsem was titled "Style As Substance."

Critics are sure to target "The Fall" as bereft of depth, but if there were ever a case of style successfully trumping substance, this is it.

Destined to most likely become a cult classic, "The Fall" is rich in jaw-dropping imagery that will linger long in the memory of those adventurous enough to see it.