There's a good idea at the heart of The Fall, but it's not an original one. In fact, it's an idea that has been done many times over, including in the 1981 film, Yo Ho Ho, that it's based on. It's all about the power of stories, the ability of fantasy to help us cope with our reality, and you would assume that director Tarsem Singh is just the right person to deal with that material. It turns out that he isn't.
The basic tale concerns a depressed hospital patient, a bed-bound stuntman (Roy, played by Lee Pace), who ends up whiling away some hours telling a fantastical tale - featuring warriors, bandits, and revenge - to a young girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru). As the two patients bond, Roy tries to trick his new friend into helping him with a planned suicide attempt, which leads to tension that bleeds into the story being told.
You cannot fault The Fall for the visuals, unsurprisingly enough. This thing looks consistently gorgeous when delving into the realm of the fantasy tale. It even looks fine when in the more drab reality that is framing the fantasy. It's just a shame that the script undermines all of that good work.
Written by Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis, and Singh, the screenplay for The Fall veers between the disappointingly underdone and the borderline tedious, which is something I never thought I would experience with these ideas and this director at the helm. It feels as if he indulged his own excesses while writing the screenplay and then held back when it came to visualising everything, sadly, and the end result is much the worse for it.
Pace is decent enough in the lead role, and that's all the more impressive considering the fact that most of his scenes have him working opposite a child actress who is quite terrible for most of her screentime. I won't go on, mainly because I don't want to be accused of being unduly harsh, but let's just say that I spent a lot of time wishing that someone, anyone, else was in that central role. The rest of the cast are given very little to do, with Justine Waddell particularly wasted in her role, and it's almost saddening to watch them try their best when actually allowed.
It's impossible to watch this and not think of how things would have been handled by someone like Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, or any other director able to put their own stamp on unique visions. And that's why I end this review by encouraging fans of Tarsem Singh to revisit, and reappraise, The Cell instead. It's the much better option.
You can buy the film here.
Americans can buy it here.