Tarsem Singh first gained mainstream notoriety for his wonderfully evocative video for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”; a short piece that showcased the director’s penchant for eye-popping visuals and moody set-pieces. While his cinematic debut, 2000’s “The Cell”, didn’t garner much praise for its threadbare plot and star Jennifer Lopez’ wooden performance, even those who despised the film couldn’t deny its beauty. Singh’s true test as a feature director, however, would be to find a way to marry his astonishing visuals to a cohesive and coherent story, and with “The Fall”, the visionary and the storyteller finally become one.
When Hollywood stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace) finds himself paralyzed after an accident on the set of a western, he develops an friendship with the Alexandria (Cantica Untaru) – a little girl with a broken arm and an equally broken heart. Roy begins telling Alexandria an epic tale about a group of five heroes – The Indian, The Ex-Slave, The Bandit, The Explosives Expert, and Charles Darwin – and their quest for revenge against the man who’s slighted them all, the evil Governor Odious. Alexandria becomes enraptured by Roy’s tale, but we learn Roy’s ulterior motive behind the story as he tells the girl that he will only continue to tell it if she agrees to steal morphine for him. As Roy’s personality is warped by depression and the effects of the morphine, so, too, is the tone of his story. Alexandria soon begins to realize the truth about the story’s heroes and villains and, as the line between reality and imagination fades, the two unlikely friends become consumed by the world they’ve created, and must see the story through to its tragic end.
The Fall is, quite simply, an immensely moving feast for the senses, buoyed by wonderful performances by Pace and newcomer, Untaru, and some of the most gorgeous and elegant images I’ve seen in a feature film. It’s like “Pan’s Labyrinth” meets National Geographic by way of “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”; a challenging and engaging adult fairy tale crafted in the tradition of the works of Lean and Attenborough, but with a look and feel that is wholly original and exciting. Movies like The Fall are the reason I fell in love with film in the first place.
How does it look? The word stunning comes to mind. This is precisely the kind of film HD was made for, and Sony doesn’t disappoint, offering up The Fall in a 1:85.1 presentation that I have a feeling will serve as a benchmark for quality and visual consistency for months, perhaps years, to come. This is a ferociously visual film, and Sony’s transfer fends off every attack with glorious detail, depth, and clarity. The Fall’s color palette runs the gamut from lush blacks to pallid grays and yellows to vibrant blues, reds, and golds, and all are replicated here in a near three-dimensional image that is just plain astonishing.
The visual experience is rounded out by a nearly-as-impressive 5.1 TrueHD soundtrack that fills the room with a bounty of rich surround effects, superbly mixed and ultra-crisp dialogue, and a throbbing bass track. The film’s many action sequences launch an all out aural assault, but even the quieter moments – from the rustling of sheets to clacking of shoes on tile – are wonderfully expressive and dynamic.
Bonus features include a pair of commentary tracks – one featuring Tarsem Singh, and the other featuring writers Nico Soultanakis and Dan Gilroy, as well as star, Lee Pace. Singh’s commentary is more of a collection of musings and reflections on what went into making the film rather than a shot-by-shot deconstruction, while the writer/star commentary offers more by way of behind-the-scenes nuggets. Fleshing out the making of the film is a pair of 30 minute documentaries, Wanderlust (SD) and Nostalgia (SD), both of which eschew the EPK conventions of interviews and hyperbole, offering raw footage of various scenes in production. A stills gallery (HD) and trailers (HD) round out the package.
The Fall manages to be both a work of breathtaking visual spectacle and a film of tremendous emotional resonance, and is one of the best motion pictures I’ve seen in years. It’s one of those films that is so loaded with subtle details that it’s impossible to take it all in with a single viewing, but, thankfully, it’s also the kind of film you’ll be more than happy to watch again so that you can appreciate said detail. Very highly recommended.