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Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Fall ****

Tarsem Singh, renowned for his stunning film, The Cell, in 2000 returns triumphantly after an eight-year hiatus during which he shot The Fall in over a dozen locations spread across the earth.  The result is a visual masterpiece that tells the story of a story about a little girl and her friend, the Masked Bandit.

In real life, in a 1915 Hollywood hospital, we are introduced to young Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) whose innocence is as adorable as her accent.  She is in the hospital with a broken arm when she meets Roy (Lee Pace, "Pushing Daises"), a stuntman whose most recent fall has left him paralyzed from the waist down.  The two become quick friends and allow their imaginations to run wild as Roy begins to tell Alexandria an "epic story."

This story, of course, is what makes up the majority of the film.  It is the tale of five men (the Masked Bandit, the Ex-Slave, the Indian, the Explosives Expert, and Charles Darwin) who are all on a singular mission--to kill the evil Governor Odious who has murdered the Masked Bandit's twin brother, the Blue Bandit and ruined each of their own lives in a variety of insidious ways.  It is in this globe-trotting, eye-popping journey that Tarsem's skills truly shine, transporting us into an impossibly rich world where the use of color alone makes the film worth watching.  But that is not all that the film has to offer.

Such was the problem that many critics felt The Cell ran into--all style and no substance.  I don't know that I subscribe to such beliefs, but in The Fall, there is no arguing that there really is a heart and soul to this film that drives it forward.  It does start a bit slow, relying, perhaps a bit too strongly on the eye candy on the screen to keep us interested as we learn what is at stake for our cast of characters--but when Roy starts to lose himself, both in real life and in his story, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur (not unlike Pan's Labyrinth--though Del Torro's film is much more graphic) and suddenly, there are far greater consequences than just finding an end to the story that Alexandria so loves to listen to.

Tarsem Singh is one of the most visually-stunning directors in moviemaking today (and one who eschews CGI no less, preferring to build physical sets and scout the gorgeous locations he shoots rather than create them through computers), but it is wonderful to see him take on a project that exercises not only his keen eye, but also his heart. A masterful achievement in both style and substance.

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