Early in “The Fall,” an old man teaches a girl a magic incantation that will drive away anything that causes pain. “Just say, ‘Googly, googly, googly – begone!' ” he tells her. But he's a liar. I repeated the phrase throughout this gorgeous, interminable film, and it played unheedingly on.
It takes place in a Los Angeles hospital in what seems to be the early 1920s. Stuntman Roy (Lee Pace), his back broken by a fall, lies in bed bemoaning the girlfriend he lost to his movie's leading man.
Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a 5-year-old of Eastern European extraction, has broken her arm working in the orange fields and begs him to tell her a long, ongoing story. Suicidal Roy agrees, hoping she'll like him well enough to pilfer “sleeping pills” (morphine) so he can escape his misery permanently.
Roy's story is about wicked governor Odious, who's pursued around the world by five men he has wronged. They're joined by a grunting mystic who climbs out of a burning tree, and the six plod through meaningless adventures. Of course, the characters come from Roy's life, and what happens in the story reflects his increasing desire to die.
Producer-director Tarsem Singh, who wrote the script with Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis, shot in two dozen locations from Fiji to Turkey. He and cinematographer Colin Watkinson achieve shots of jaw-dropping beauty: white-gowned dervishes whirling across the marble floor of a temple, an elephant swimming majestically across an azure sea, parched soldiers huddling on a dune the color of a blood orange.
If only he'd paid as much attention to words and performances as images! None of the mythic characters has charisma, and the drab actors (especially Justine Waddell as the heroine of the tale-within-a-tale) seem to have been chosen for maximum inexpressiveness, so they won't detract from the settings.
Pace finally works up real emotion by the end, but he's out of sync with his utterly natural little co-star. She burbles and whistles and snorts and pokes distractedly at props and steps on Pace's dialogue, as if she didn't realize a movie was going on around her. Maybe she was saying “googly, googly, googly” inside her mind the whole time.