Friday, May 30, 2008

Falling up [The Fall]

The Fall [R]
Grade: B
Director: Tarsem Singh
Cast: Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru

How many movies must a director make before we can say he has a definitive visual style?

In the case of Tarsem Singh, that number might well be two (although a string of striking 1990s musical videos certainly helps establish his reputation). His involving images dwell in strong blues, reds, and purples, swimming in often sandy backdrops (deserts are popular).

What’s been less clear about Singh is whether his stories will ever have the same power as his pictures. His first feature, The Cell, is old enough now to have been made when people still regarded Jennifer Lopez as a bright, rising star with a seemingly endless future. With the help of a futuristic device, a psychiatrist explores the internal landscape of a psychotic’s mind. This story was essentially an excuse for Singh to paint across the screen.

Faring better in this regard is his second feature, The Fall, which allows his surrealistic expressions to intertwine with a stronger story. Set in the 1920s, a Hollywood stuntman, after an on-set accident that might have been a suicide attempt, lies paralyzed in a California Catholic hospital. There, he strikes up a friendship with a young immigrant girl, also a patient.

The twist in the plot turns out to be less of a cynical arthouse pretension than it sounds. The stunt man wants to use his influence over the girl so that she will fetch him pills with which to commit suicide. Each day, as she visits his bedside, he seeks to win her favor by telling a continuing bedtime story, which is visualized on the screen.

The wandering story, a tale of foreign adventure, romance, and deadpan humor, follows the attempts of a group of outcast warriors as they seek revenge on a nasty emperor. Mystical warriors are birthed from burnt trees. Castaways ride ashore on swimming elephants. This is the portion swaddled in Singh’s unique eye-candy universe.

The greatest test for a movie like this is whether the story is strong enough to justify the visuals. Until its troubling ending, when it mistakes melodrama for emotional movement, I felt it does. There’s an enjoyable gentleness to the relationship between man and child. Strangely though, I thought a few of Singh’s compositions seemed a little used and familiar. It’s been 10 years. That’s a lot of time for people to steal.

1 comment:

Daniel G. said...

Great review. I just saw it and have many of the same thoughts. Parts of the story seemed a little over my head. Or I guess I should say, it sure felt a lot more complex than it actually was. Beautiful shots, though.