Tarsem Singh's film, The Fall, is a visual extravaganza, with some utterly beautiful shots, many extraordinary locations, a great deal of imagination, and a performance from a young Romanian actress called Catinca Untaru (she was eight or nine at the time the movie was made) which is as natural as you can get on film. Even some of her mishaps with her lines have been left in and add to the charm. She plays opposite adult actor, Lee Pace, and the pair are fine together.
Regrettably, The Fall starts out with a good idea, with humour, with a great deal of fantasy, but increasingly becomes incoherent. What could easily have been a film to delight children (my grandson was watching it until it suddenly became increasingly violent) turns into a film that loses its plot - literally.
Both Alexandria (Untaru) and Roy Walker (Pace) are patients in a very casually-run hospital around the time silent movies were becoming increasingly successful. He's a stuntman, and has had a nasty accident jumping off a bridge, on a horse. The horse dies, and Walker is left paralysed in his legs. Alexandria has had some fall in which she's broken her arm (she spends most of the movie with it stuck up in the air at an awkward angle). They meet by accident, and he begins to tell her a long and fantastical story about five men who all have a passion for revenge on the wicked Governor Odious. Initially the story is simple and like a folk-tale; it also chops and changes at the whim of either the storyteller or the listener. We also understand that Alexandria sees the events in quite a different way - at times - from what Walker intends.
Unfortunately, Walker more and more adds in elements of his own life and misery, and instead of the story working towards some grand climax and romantic ending for the main character, the Black Bandit, it becomes a brutal and unpleasant tale in which the other four characters die at the hands of Odious' soldiers, along with the savage who has assisted them, and the monkey belonging to one of the adventurers (called Charles Darwin, but only remotely resembling the historical man). The Black Bandit even admits to being a coward (he was also prepared to shoot his beloved). The story somehow comes into Walker and Alexandria's own time, and with real people are included.
Walker tries to commit suicide, with the apparent assistance of Alexandria, and though he doesn't achieve this, he takes to the bottle, feeling that his life as a stuntman is over. In a long and not very successfully worked-out sequence, Alexandria, both in reality and in the story, pleads with him to face life again and move on. He eventually does, and the last sequence has the hospital patients watching the movie that he was originally making, and we hear that he goes on to work as a stuntman in dozens of other movies.
It's a great pity that the movie becomes so downbeat about three-quarters of the way through. It loses any continuity it might have with the earlier parts, and the two sections are quite inconsistent in style. The whole film shows a lack of being thoroughly worked-out - even within the ever-changing world of the story there has to be an internal consistency, and this is lacking. (I've seen a couple of other movies over the years that tried to switch part way through from being a comedy to a tragedy; it didn't work there either.)
We only discover late in the proceedings that some of the characters in the story are based on people in the 'real' part of the movie. It would have been far more effective if we'd understood this earlier on. And there are a number of oddities: one example is when the five bandits (as they're sometimes styled) capture one of Odious' caravans in the middle of the desert. A princess appears out of the door. She's preceded by a young boy, her nephew, (so she informs the others), but extraordinarily he's just left behind, and no further mention is made of him. The old rule applies to all storytelling: if you're going to introduce a character who appears to have a purpose in things, then you'd better make sure he does, or you alienate your audience.
Equally, it takes some time before we realise who the Princess in the story is based on: the only attractive woman in the cast up to that point is one of the children's nurses. But it isn't her, and she never actually has anything to do with Walker. The Princess is apparently the movie actress that Walker is in love with; she's gone off in real life to live with the actor who plays the hero in the movie being made at the beginning. He turns out to be the model for Governor Odious.
I know how difficult it is to structure a story well and I understand that especially in fantasy writing it's easy to leave loose ends. Unfortunately, this so seriously undercuts the values of this movie that it makes the audience irritated and frustrated. Given that Tarsem spent four years making the film, you'd wonder that he didn't give himself just a bit more time to pull it all together in terms of the story. (And he had two other writers on the job, anyway.)