(Video on Demand, June 2013) If you feel that there’s been a dearth of desert-adventure films out there, then take heart in Day of the Falcon’s existence and enjoy a trip to 1930s Arabia for an old-fashioned epic. Tahar Rahim stars as Prince Auda, a bookworm son who eventually learns to lead an army and uphold progressive values at a time when the West is taking an interest in the oil reserves under the sand. A co-production involving four countries, Day of the Falcon has a decent budget and a refreshingly earnest viewpoint toward traditional values in the face of western imperialism. Directed with competence by veteran French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud, the film can be enjoyed for its epic scope, interesting visuals and sympathetic characters. It’s hardly perfect: there are a few pacing issues, and as much as I like Mark Strong and Antonio Banderas, casting them as warring emirs feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity for ethnicity-appropriate actors. (The same goes, to a lesser extent, for Freida Pinto, except that she’s sultry enough to make anyone believe that the hero would wage all-out war simply in order to come back home to her.) Historical parallels with the early days of Saudi Arabia are interesting (albeit not to be taken at face value) and so is the obvious commentary on the dominance of the oil industry in the region. Parallels with Lawrence of Arabia are obvious, especially considering that the film offers a few desert-war sequences not commonly seen elsewhere in movies. The stilted dialogues and acting definitely take a back seat to sweep of the film’s adventure. For a film that probably flew under the radar of most north-American moviegoers, Day of the Falcon definitely qualifies as an underappreciated gem.
(Cable TV, September 2012) The most dependable thing about director Tarsem Singh’s work is the astonishing visual polish of his work: From The Cell to The Fall to Immortals to Mirror, Mirror, the least one can say about his work is that it’s pretty to look at. In terms of story, though, he doesn’t always pick the best scripts: His own writing on The Fall was intriguing, but his other films are disappointing to some degree. Immortals is no exception to the rule: While it features a number of sequences that are pretty enough to work as classical paintings, its story veers between confusion, dullness and trite clichés. Based on Greek mythology, Immortals is partly an excuse to produce a turbo-charged fantasy action film using top-notch special effects, and partly an excuse to play in the rarefied sphere of intensely operatic sword-and-sandal drama. It works, but not completely: While the visuals are one-wow-a-minute, the story takes a long time to get going, and even then merely works in fragments. Henry Cavill doesn’t have anything to regret in his performance as Theseus, while Freida Pinto perfectly plays the part of a reluctant oracle and Mickey Rourke brings some energy in the picture as the villainous King Hyperion. Still, this isn’t an actor’s film: it’s really a directorial showpiece, and Immortals has a lot of visually memorable set-pieces. The atmosphere may feel a bit claustrophobic (at time, it seems as if half the outdoors scenes are set on a cliff overlooking the sea), but the sequences are polished to such a degree that the entire film feels photo-shopped. (Immortals may feature some of the goriest slow-motion deaths in recent fantasy, but it’s so pretty that the only response is an astonished “oooh”.) Too bad the script hasn’t been re-worked to such degree: we’re left with a dull beginning, a muddled middle and a straightforward ending. A blend of 300 aesthetics with Clash of the Titans mythology, Immortals works best as a plot-less eye candy. Maybe, some day, Tarsem will manage to combine his superlative visuals with a good script.