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No. 30: “The Fall” (2006)

“There’s no happy ending with me,” stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace) tells Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), the inquisitive little girl who sneaks into his hospital room. Truer and more heartbreaking words were never spoken. Wasted by heartbreak and paralyzed by a stunt gone wrong, Roy is sticking around just long enough to commit suicide. Young Alexandria, hospitalized with a broken arm, looks like a suitably gullible accomplice. But then Roy starts to weave an epic tale of vengeance, love and honor, and his own story shifts in ways he did not see coming. The telling changes him, and Alexandria, too.

Such is the beauty of Tarsem Singh’s poetic, wrenching and visually striking “The Fall,” a film that marries unforced yet dynamic performances (Pace and Untaru are splendidly matched) with bold characters and vibrant landscapes. This is a story within a story, and the players in both act in ways we do not anticipate. To create one such story, where the characters surprise and touch us, is quite an accomplishment; to create two in one movie, impossible, yet somehow Singh has done it. By the end, “The Fall” struck me speechless.

Still, a film like “The Fall” deserves a lot of words, so this dumbstruck routine cannot hold. The central story involves the unlikely friendship between Roy and Alexandria. Roy, paralyzed on set by a foolish stunt he cooked up to impress the girlfriend he lost anyway to the movie’s star, has no desire to live. But he finds Alexandria an amusing distraction. So Roy creates a story for her about five heroes — Luigi (Robin Smith), an explosives expert; an unnamed Indian (Jeetu Verma); Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), an ex-slave; Charles Darwin (Leo Bill); and the masked Blue Bandit (Pace) — all out to kill corrupt Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone). The story weaves in and out of Roy and Alexandria’s reality, set in a hospital in 1920s-era Los Angeles.

Later, there is a line that suggests Roy’s intentions aren’t totally pure: “You always stop at the same part, when it is very beautiful,” Alexandria tells him. He has a sneaky reason for this: He holds the full story hostage to convince her to do something he can’t do for himself. But it’s more complex than that. Pace’s eyes here suggest Roy has other reasons. Maybe this broken man wants to remember things that way, when the edges were softer and the emotions kinder. Or perhaps he wants to leave Alexandria with memories of vigor and beauty, not the pain and rage he can’t shake. There is not one single motive, but many, and they all get tangled up in Roy’s larger-than-life tale.

There’s no doubt that the heroic story, with its villains and roiling, chaotic emotions, demands much of the viewer’s attention. Visually, the Blue Bandit’s pursuit of Governor Odious looks awesome, with its electrifying colors, innovative costumes and double casting. A few glorious fight scenes in (note the Bandit/Odious showdown), it’s clear that Tarsem Singh is the kind of visionary Guillermo del Toro should envy. “The Fall” feels every bit like the cinematic equivalent of a Dali painting, with eye-popping colors and images. In fact, the look of the Blue Bandit’s quest seems, at times, enough to overpower the story of Roy and Alexandria.

The reason the visuals don’t win out? Untaru and Pace, who make a strange but electrifying pair. The Romania-born Untaru doesn’t speak much English, but she hardly needs to — she has a natural curiosity that feel completely authentic. She’s innocent, but we get the sense that she might understand the story Roy creates has more to do with his real life than he’ll admit. Her plea for Roy to make her a part of that story, and then to give her some control over its outcome, is devastating. And what of Pace, who’s been creating an impressive resume? Wow. Just … wow. His layered performance as Roy is blistering, with its mix of resignation and increasingly unchecked wrath. He’ll shred your heart, tear it right out and then sneak it back in a little bigger and stronger for the wear. With Pace at the heart and Singh at the helm, “The Fall” is just that kind of powerful moviegoing experience.

17 Responses

  1. spot on.

  2. Thanks to you, I am hooked. I watched it and then immediately rewatched it. I already ordered it on Amazon. If I was a fan before, I’m a Lee Pace groupie now.

  3. I’m curious 🙂 I’ll watch it!

  4. I’m grinning ear to ear reading your always fabulously-written review! I LOVE this movie, and this is the movie that Pace won me over. I adore Cantica, too, I felt the same way when I watched her, she’s such a natural. The visual is just breathtaking even at the risk of taking over the story. But Untaru and Pace’s performances helped bring it down to a relatable level for me. I’m psyched for Tarsem’s next project War of the Gods—it doesn’t hurt that it stars Henry Cavill!—but I have high hopes he’ll make his mark in Hollywood with that one.

  5. Thanks for the compliment. I sort of dreaded this review because I felt like I couldn’t do “The Fall” justice. But Lee Pace — just wow. That’s all I was reduced to, those two words. So powerful, so moving, so impressive for an actor whose been working only about 7 years. I suspect I’ll spend the rest of my days following his career!

  6. im sorry i wish i could type a better comment then this but im on my way out to lunch, i just wanted to say this is on my top 20 movies of all time. I love this film! A visual feast for the imagination.

    • The minute I was done watching it I kicked something out of my Top 100 and put “The Fall” in. Oh yes, it was THAT good! I’m glad more people know about it.

  7. Great review. I love this film too.

  8. Great review! Great choice! From start to finish I was blown away by this film. From the gorgeous imagery (talk about a reason in and of itself to get a Blu-Ray Player), to the fantastic acting (Pace was great, but Untaru was a natural), every piece worked! I especially loved the subtle differences in how they understood and saw the story, and the almost throwaway bits where Untaru reveals what happened to her father and her home)

    Great job!

  9. I enjoyed this movie a lot. For some reason, I’m a little more apprehensive about liking it more than I do. But the visuals in it are amazing. There are no computer generated effects! Everytime I think about that, I’m blown away. How did Tarsem do it?! But it really is a great movie, and this was a great review!

    • Generally I like minimalist character studies more than movies with big, sweeping, self-consciously stunning visuals. But since “The Fall” manages to be both, I cannot not love it. Maybe part of the reason it’s so good is that I hear Tarsem financed most of the film himself, so it feels like a labor of love.

  10. Paragraph picked this in that piece we did… I guess I really do need to see this… just can’t find it. Guess I’m going to Amazon!

    • Based on the strength of two different reviews by bloggers on my blogroll (Flix Chatter and Robots Who Like Pretty Things), I took a chance and BOUGHT this on Amazon. Even though I’m not so much a sweeping epic kinda girl, I loved it. Untaru and Pace are phenomenally good. I’ll let the colors and sets and costumes speak for themselves!

      In other words: Buy it. You won’t be sorry.

  11. Great review… I think everyone should be forced to watch this at one point or another. My original review’s below, although I was still a little euphoric the day viewing it and may have to reign in the score. Planning on watching the Blu Ray in the next week or so so will re-review it.



  12. […] F is for “The Fall” […]

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