Friday, June 13, 2008

Film Review: The Fall

"The Fall" *** (out of ****)
"The Fall" reminds me of my childhood. When I was younger, about the same age as the child in this film, I would ask my father to tell me a bedtime stories. But, I didn't want to hear conventional stories. I would always complicate things by adding my own characters in the story. Because it was my story it had to take place in Budapest and had to revolve my current interest which included Laurel & Hardy, Universal Monsters and Charlie Chaplin. But every night my father would find a way to blend all these things together.

"The Fall" is a similarly told film. A stuntman (Lee Pace) has injured himself during a movie shoot. He fell off a bridge and missed his mark. In addition to which, his girlfriend dumped him for the star of the film. He now wants to commit suicide. In the hospital he meets a young girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru, a young Romanian girl, who does not speak English but memorized all her lines). She is in the hospital for a broken arm. The stuntman, named Roy, starts to tell the girl an epic story about five heroes, in hopes to win favor with the girl so she will do him a favor, which is assist him in his attempt to overdose on pills.

And so he begins to tell a story about five bandits, an Italian, Luigi (Robin Smith), a slave, Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), Charles Darwin (Leo Bill) and an Indian (Jeetu Verma) each want to kill Odious (Daniel Caltagirone), who has harmed them in one way or another.

The film was based on a 1981 Bulgarian film entitled "Yo ho ho" directed by Zako Heskija and written by Valeri Petrov. This adaptation is directed by Tarsem Singh (who is credited simply as "Tarsem"). Tarsem has only directed one other feature lenght film, 2000's "The Cell" with Jennifer Lopez. His other credits include music videos for such artist as R.E.M. Already, after only two films Tarsem has his own style. If you missed the opening credits of his films, there is no way you can deny it is his works. His imprint is so strong and recognizable.

The film opens with a beautiful black&white shot of the accident. We hear Beethoven in the background as we are under water. The crew jumps in to save Roy. A block & tackle is used to lift a horse out of the water. This sequence is so stunning amazing. Every frame is a painting. It could be used as postcards of the old west.

The rest of the film has Roy and Alexandria arguing over what should happen in the story. We see a scene played out as Roy wants to tell it, only to break the scene with Alexandria putting in her opinion, thus changing the order of things. Alexandria will introduce herself into the story, Roy will kill certain characters. Together they try to work out an ending.

At its core "The Fall" is a film about imagination and the power of storytelling. The film ends with a montage of silent movie clips. I didn't recognize everything but I did notice Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and I think Harry Langdon. But with this message, that is where the film fails. The story is all over the place. There is such an inconsistency. The film moves along at its own whim and desire. Paying no attention to what has been previously set-up. What then makes "The Fall" such a striking film is the visuals. The vast landscape, the bright colors, the eccentric costumes. It is pure eye candy. And it is enough to keep an audience's interest but imagine what could have been if the story had been a bit stronger. More coherent. I felt "The Cell" was an example of that. "The Fall" doesn't quite live up to what that film accomplished, despite whatever praise I may give the film.

Tarsem is an interesting and clever director. There is no doubt about that. With these two films under his belt, he will have a long career in cinema. While "The Fall" may not reach the greatness I had hoped it would, his very next film just very well may live up to my expectations.