Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Allan Cubitt & Jakob Verbruggen's THE FALL offers some very dark goings-on in Belfast

Made for British and American television and first aired in both places (as well as Ireland and Israel) this past May, THE FALL (not to be confused with the wonderful film by Tarsem Singh) was executive-produced by its star Gillian Anderson and gives her one of her choice roles of late (certainly much better than her truncated appearance in last year's Shadow Dancer). Due to a recent casting fluke, however, what the series suddenly does is provide an up-close-and-personal look at the work of one, Jamie Dornan, who just bumped Charlie Hunnam from the title role in the upcoming, would-be sex blockbuster, Fifty Shades of Grey.

I wager most Americans will not previously have heard of Mr. Dornan (I certainly had not), and though Mr. Hunnam (a fine and versatile actor) was no household word, he was more of a known quantity than Dornan. (But, according to my daughter, Hunnam just didn't properly fit the physical characteristics of the Christian Grey character.)

In The Fall, which tells-- in five nearly hour-long episodes -- the tale of a family man/serial killer named Paul Spector (Dornan) and the crack investigator, Stella Gibson (Anderson) who has been brought in to help catch him, the emphasis surprisingly enough is on the murderer. We learn a hell of a lot more about Paul and his life than we do about Stella and hers -- which makes this series -- created and written by Allan Cubitt (above) and
directed by Jakob Verbruggen (shown at left) -- seem to me both a little lop-sided and an odd choice for an actress of Ms Anderson's caliber to have helped bankroll. While this eventually throws the series off balance, it certainly allows us to sink deep into the cesspool of Paul's sick thoughts and actions. (Considering that sinking, director Verbruggen favors an awful lot of overhead shots in which we look directly down, god-like, on our sad slice of humanity.)

I would guess that a series such as our own cable TV's Dexter has influenced The Fall, even if that serial killer comes across as at least partially heroic, since he kills other serial killers, while our boy here offs only innocent young women. (Though, in his mind, from the little we're allowed inside it, these gals are somehow guilty. Of something or other. And, yes, you can expect a little Friedrich Nietzsche tossed into the mix.)

Ms Anderson, above and top, is a fine actress. (If you've never caught her performance in Terence Davies' adaptation of The House of Mirth, you're missing something deep and wonderful.) Here, though, her Stella seems to exist primarily to score feminist points. While her take-down of one of her superiors (who seems bent on making her feel bad for not asking in advance if the policeman she decided to have sex with was married) is smartly written, it is also more of the mostly one-note characterization Cubitt has provided Stella, who besides swimming, fucking and mostly investigating (the latter quite well), has little inner life.

Paul, on the other hand, is given plenty of inner life, though most of it seems at odds with his outer version, and while we rarely get this close to a serial killer in movies or TV (would we want to, unless we're doing it for professional reasons?), I didn't always buy what I was seeing and hearing. Still, Mr. Dornan (above and below) makes a fine leading man, moment-to-moment believable and sexy as all hell.

The series offers an always interesting back and forth between perpetrator and investigator, and considering how very dark it is, Cubitt and Verbruggen do not unduly rub our noses in the violence and killing. There is a fair sub-plot involving the town's major Capitalist, a "bought" and therefore compromised police force, and the usual hookers-and-drugs number. Nothing much comes of any of this -- neither the sub-plot nor the major one -- and this is most likely to the series' great benefit.

In its refusal to give us closure on anything at all, it is more real that most of its ilk. Mainstream audiences will turn away angry because of this, but those with a taste for reality -- if not so much in the details as in the overall concept and conclusion -- will go away happily depressed. (That's Laura Donnelly as one of our boy's lovely victims, above.)

The Fall can be seen now via Netflix streaming or on DVD.

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