Catinca Untaru, in an astonishingly natural performance

It’s 1915, and Roy Walker (Lee Pace, who, between this and his recent wonderful turn in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, deserves to be a huge star) is laid up in a Los Angeles hospital with a broken back from which he is not expected to recover. He’s a Hollywood stuntman — one of the first, which drags in all sorts of unspoken themes revolving around the distinction between fantasy and reality and the deliberate deception of fiction — and he was injured during a stunt gone wrong. Plus, on top of that, his girl ran off with the movie’s leading man. So he’s pretty depressed… downright suicidal. But he can’t move from his bed: his legs are paralyzed. So, on a whim, he enlists another patient, young Alexandria (Catinca Untaru, in an astonishingly natural performance), in a scheme to steal him enough morphine pills so he can kill himself. The child has no idea what’s going on, of course — she just knows that Roy tells the most delightful stories, and that she’d do anything for him so that he’ll keep the tales coming.

Even unto the end, the beautiful weirdness of Alexandria’s imaginary Oz — and how she misinterprets things Roy says that seem perfectly plain to us grownups — keeps smacking up against the harsh reality of Roy’s ulterior motives so that we almost don’t know what we’re “supposed” to feel. And that’s a good thing: because for all its patent artificiality, there’s something of the found-object about The Fall, as if it had sprung whole cloth from the forehead of some minor demigod who may be, like Roy is with Alexandria, playing tricks on us, and yet wants to delight us at the same time. And still we don’t care, because the story alone is worth it.

by MaryAnn Johanson


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