'Fall' is all dressed up but goes nowhere

Special to The Times

"The Fall" comes with a pre-credit title stating that it is presented by David Fincher and Spike Jonze, presumably compadres of director and co-writer Tarsem Singh (credited only as Tarsem) from the world of commercials and music videos. Where his patrons have both developed a supple, nuanced understanding of narrative, Tarsem seems to have remained interested only in image-making for its own ends. There is never a sense that "The Fall" exists for any reason besides simply being something nice to look at. Yet no matter how good-looking a film may be, if it's as sleep-inducing as this, there's simply no point.

In 1915 Los Angeles, a stuntman (Lee Pace) is paralyzed and passes the time in the hospital by telling an ongoing, improvised yarn to a little immigrant girl (Catinca Untaru) with a broken arm. So there is a story, and a story within the story, as they push and pull between fantasy and reality. Or something like that.

The back story of "The Fall" seems far more interesting and has more dramatic heft than what we're left to look at. The film was shot over a span of four years in 18 countries and does indeed include a rather unique array of striking extant architecture, prefab sets that could likely never be imagined, let alone built on any kind of reasonable budget.

Tarsem underlines the film with truly obnoxious levels of pretentiousness that insist on the pretty pictures as having capital-M meaning, which only brings into sharp relief what a hollow exercise it all really is. Like De Chirico does MTV in the '80s, his ideas of what constitutes "artful" -- mostly consisting of slo-mo, tableau framing, strange costumes and a romanticized exoticism -- seem at best encased in amber and at worst completely regressive. For a film that wants to present itself as extravagantly dazzling, there is something thuddingly familiar and bland in its vision.


"The Fall." MPAA rating: R for some violent images. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. In limited release.

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