Quite possibly one of the most beautiful movies ever made, this offbeat experiment was a passion project for director Tarsem Singh, once one of the hottest emerging MTV directors (REM’s “Losing My Religion” video) until a dud of a directorial debut (“The Cell“) nearly derailed his career.
“The Fall” should have marked a return as epic as its ambitions — equal parts drama and fantasy, fairy tale and romance, a “The Princess Bride” for a new generation. Unfortunately, not nearly enough people gave it a chance.
Set in 1920s Los Angeles, the film concerns an injured movie stuntman (Lee Pace) telling a fantastical story. Convalescing in a hospital and facing the possibility of paralysis, he meets a young girl (Catinca Untaru) and regales her with far-fetched stories that then play out on the screen. Of course, all is not as noble as it seems — the stuntman is desperate for morphine, and his storytelling manipulates the girl to steal the potent painkiller from the hospital’s stash.
As he shares his fictional tale of the adventures of the Black and Red Bandit, the little girl is drawn deeper into the story’s world — and so is the viewer. Reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s best work, the film’s framework gives Tarsem an ideal canvas to spill forth his talents as one of the best visual artists of his time. These sweeping landscapes stand in stark contrast to the stuntman’s reality, with heartfelt human struggle shining through every plot point.
Visionary directors (and fellow MTV alumni) David Fincher and Spike Jonez attached their names to the film’s distribution, hoping to take “The Fall” beyond its limited release trappings. Nevertheless, audiences and critics alike had polarizing reactions to the film.
Ultimately, it’s a movie people either love, or love to hate. But Ebert loved it, naming “The Fall” one of the best films of 2008. “Tarsem’s film is a mad folly, an extravagant visual orgy,” he said in his review. “It’s a free fall from reality into uncharted realms.”