Sometimes a great movie is not just character and story, but also spectacle. The Fall is by Tarsem Singh, who directed The Cell, another bizarre story that was merely an excuse for stunning imagery. That movie involved a cop/profiler going into the dream world of a serial killer; The Fall is more of a flight of fancy, about an injured stunt man telling tall tales to a young girl from his hospital bed. He constructs a fantastic story to drive away her nightmares and to forget his own heartache.
The stunt man is Roy (Lee Pace, “Pushing Daisies“), who broke his spine in a reckless jump from a railroad bridge; the little girl is Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), like the library. She broke her arm picking fruit as a laborer, has a tenacious but inexperienced grasp of English, and a missing set of front teeth that amplifies her cuteness and pitiability. Lee Pace’s comforting voice and rather expressive eyebrows- neck and neck with Colin Farrell’s for the Belushi Prize this year- make him a natural storyteller, and he begins plucking a story out of thin air.
He begins with a motley group of bandits- a masked leader, whose brother is imprisoned; an ex-slave whose brother was worked to death; an Indian warrior whose woman was taken; an explosives expert, whose leg was lost, and Charles Darwin and his monkey Wallace- whose treasured rare butterfly was killed. Their common enemy, the evil Governor Odious, who has also trapped them on a remote sandbar island to die. The film begins a series of stunning images worthy of the Planet Earth documentary, done entirely without computer-generated effects if you believe IMDb, when they escape the isle, by swimming away on elephants. The underwater shots are just amazing, and Tarsem continues to top them as the story unfolds.
The bandits will avenge themselves on Governor Odious and his bizarrely clad henchman, who seem like hyenas in a mix of musketeer garb and plate armor. We see the story filtered through little Alex’s mind, giving us some cute jokes- Roy may describe the Indian Warrior as a brave, but Alex sees him as a turbaned Sikh swordsman. There is a twist to Roy’s story that I won’t reveal, but the simple story and its emotional power are backdrop for the stunning visuals. The Labyrinth of Despair; a mystic who bursts from a smoldering tree; battles with arrows darkening the sky, that look real (unlike 300).
I missed it in theaters, but it’s a great show on an HD home system on DVD. It will beg comparison with Terry Gilliam’s classic The Adventures of Baron Munchausen if only for its imagery and the group of extraordinary men who band together. But its heart is in a different place, about finding the will to live when your life is crushed, and seeing that loss can be filled even by the smallest of friends. It’s a delightful sleeper and one of the most imaginative films of the year, and one of the best-looking. Definitely one of my favorites, too.