Written by: Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis & Tarsem, based on the screenplay Yo Ho Ho by Valery Petrov
Directed by: Tarsem
Starring: Catinca Untaru, Lee Pace, Justine Waddell, Robin Smith, Marcus Wesley, Leo Bill, Jeetu Verma, Emil Hostina, Julian Bleach
My Advice: Don’t miss it.
Alexandria (Untaru) is the daughter of immigrants. She works out in the Californian orange groves with her family and has recently suffered a bad fall, breaking her arm. While running about the hospital, arm in cast, she meets Roy (Pace), who also had a bad fall and may be permanently damaged. And is, in multiple ways. Roy starts to tell Alexandria a fantastic story about an Indian, a former slave, an explosives expert, a mystic, a masked bandit and Charles Darwin, all who pledged to end the life of the evil Governor Odious. Roy will keep telling the story, but he needs a favor from Alexandria in return…
The bottom line is that Tarsem does not disappoint. What seems to be a light fantasy tale about an adult spinning a yarn for a child transcends, and instead becomes a story within which characters tell stories to one another, but itself is primarily about storytelling. Meta enough for you? It’s not just children’s tales…it’s the stories we tell each other, the stories we tell ourselves. How it’s the fiction we wrap things in that helps us cope and how we build worlds to clothe the real world in so we can bear it better. Being somebody who tells stories often, this hits home with me and then some.
Pace is utterly believable and sincere in his portrayal of Roy, setting up a story so that the young listener can fill in the visual details with the things she is familiar with, a la Wizard of Oz. Untaru is priceless–she and Pace share scenes that are so honest, I just can’t believe they were completely scripted. They feel like real people. And because they are real, we’re free to let the preposterous adventure-fantasy come and go as it wishes. The story within the story is inconsistent, weird and occasionally hilarious–what the hell kind of coat is Darwin wearing…?–but that’s life in a nutshell, isn’t it?
Tarsem gives us a visual all you can eat bar. He shot the film all over the world so he could bring real world locations that look like they simply must be fake. Whether it’s the orange sands within which Alexander the Great is stranded or the labyrinth of despair or the mad staircase ridden city that forms part of the final battle–they all look amazing. And it’s not just that he has great taste in locations. There’s a scene early on where the shot of Alexander and his men is framed so that they stand in the lower right hand corner of the screen, just an inch tall. Behind them and engulfing the rest of the screen is nothing but orange sand rising into the sky. The shot must last about three seconds, but it delivers so much information in that short amount of time that it’s almost crazed.
I can see where this film could go sour on a lot of people. You have to buy into the world(s) of the story and just hang on, or you’ll get jettisoned and be pissed about it. I understand. But you have to at least see this to believe it, even if it doesn’t work one hundred percent for you.