Lee Pace as Roy Walker
Catinca Untaru as Alexandria
Justine Waddell as Nurse Evelyn / Sister Evelyn
Daniel Caltagirone as Sinclair / Governor Odious
Kim Uylenbroek as Doctor / Alexander the Great
Emil Hostina as Alexandria’s Father / Bandit
Robin Smith as Luigi / One Legged Actor
Jeetu Verma as Indian / Orange Picker
Leo Bill as Darwin / Orderly
Marcus Wesley as Otta Benga / Ice Delivery Man
Julian Bleach as Mystic / Orange Picker
Aiden Lithgow as Alexander’s Messenger
Sean Gilder as Walt Purdy
Ronald France as Otto
Andrew Roussouw as Mr. Sabatini
Michael Huff as Dr. Whitaker
Grant Swanby as Father Augustine
Ayesha Verman as Indian’s Bride
Ketut Rina as Chief Mystic
Camilla Waldman as Crying Woman
Elvira Deatcu as Alexandria’s Mother
Emma Johnson as Alexandria’s Sister
Nico Soultanakis as Horace
Jon Kamen as Morty
Karen Haacke as Alice
Directed by Tarsem
Tarsem’s bizarre sophomore effort sports fantastic, unforgettable images and locations, often attaining the visual heights of Gilliam, Greenaway and del Toro, even if the results may be too erratic for mainstream tastes.
At a hospital in Los Angeles during the early 20th Century, paralyzed stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace) encounters Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a 6-year-old Romanian girl with a broken arm, and the two of them connect over his fantastic stories about a group of bandits trying to get revenge on the evil Governor Odious, who has exiled them on an island after destroying their lives.
Every once in a while, a movie comes along that’s so different and original, one that doesn’t try to be the “next” anything, and one that lives and dies solely by the vision of the filmmaker. That is the case with Tarsem’s second feature film following the commercial thriller “The Cell,” essentially a unique and original fairy tale epic with dark undercurrents that become more apparent over the course of the story.
The opening credits show a quizzical slow motion scene of cowboys on a high bridge, pulling a horse out of the water below, a preamble to a two-pronged story, the majority of it taking place in Los Angeles “long long ago” where an inquisitive little girl with a broken arm finds injured stuntman Roy in a hospital bed. The girl barely speaks or understands English, but they’re able to communicate through a strange story Roy tells her about five adventurers who have been trapped together on an island by the evil Governor Odeous who’s only quest is for revenge. As Roy tells this story, we watch it being recreated in colorful detail in fantastic environments incorporating elements from the hospital and the people surrounding the duo much like “The Wizard of Oz.”
With a child-like sense of storytelling and an artistic eye reminiscent of Peter Greenaway or even Matthew Barney, Tarsem is clearly a visionary, finding amazing far-off locations that have rarely been captured on film and creating large-scale images that could easily be framed and hung in the world’s finest galleries. It’s an amazing achievement in production design and cinematography with an equally lavish score by Krishna Levy, but there’s enough action to keep the film from becoming a static series of paintings like “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” Parallels can also be drawn to Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” in the way Tarsem mixes dark reality with high fantasy to create a jarring adult fairy tale.
Even though the epic visuals leave the most lasting impact, the film probably could have been carried just as easily by the unlikely relationship between Lee Pace and adorable newcomer Catinca Untaru. Smiling a gap-toothed smile and questioning every part of Roy’s story, Untaru steals their scenes with her warmth and the humor that comes from how the language barrier prevents her from understanding everything he tells her. Pace is incredibly charming and personable with the girl, the two of them creating a truly natural sense of wonder that carries over to the viewer as we watch his fantastic story unfold before our eyes.
Presumably, many of their scenes are improvised, which may be why they feel natural compared to the fantasy sequences where the writing seems forced, sometimes marred by exaggerated over-acting to make the various characters seem more outlandish. As entertaining as it may be, it gets somewhat tiring to try and keep up with the strange directions the story flies off to as they travel across the globe looking for Odeous.
Just as one starts to adapt to the film’s whimsical storytelling tone, the film takes a sudden shift into darkness, as we learn how Roy was injured and he manipulates Alexandria into getting him pills. The fantasy aspect takes a similar shift in tone as the five adventurers are pitted against insurmountable odds, and those who’ve enjoyed the film’s whimsical sense of wonder up to that point might be put off by tonal shift and the horrifying images that accompany it. Some might find this part of the film too much of a downer, but it leads to a number of honest and heartbreaking moments between Alexandria and Roy that justifies the tears.
The Bottom Line:
While “The Fall” might not be everyone’s cup of tea due to the eccentric way it blends epic fantasy with brooding reality, the scope of Tarsem’s imagination and vision and the delightful pairing of Pace and Untaru creates an eclectic fantasy tale unlike anything we’ve since Terry Gilliam’s “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” The constant sense of wonder Tarsem instills into every moment helps it gracefully overcome any of its forgivable faults.