Skip to main content

We’re very alike, you and me.


The Fall
 Season 1

I don’t generally make time out for homegrown (British) series these days, as they are too frequently starved of inspiration and/or good writing. Why bother coming up with something original (and sweating over it) when you can just copy your American cousins? But The Fall was recommended to me, so I dutifully watched the first four episodes on BBC iPlayer. And they were, with some misgivings, gripping viewing. Then came the fifth, and realisation dawned that this series was actually wrought from  a place of empty, cynical manipulation rather than an attempt to come up with a fresh angle on a tried and tested subgenre.

Allan Cubitt’s premise isn’t so far removed from the greatest of recent screen detectives, Cracker. Insightful individual working with the police is on the trail of a serial killer, whom we see throughout. Some mystery is offered, but the key ingredients revolve around the idiosyncracies of our hero/heroine and encouraging us to relate to, or at least understand, the killer in some way. Cubitt scores in the latter of these areas, but is considerably less successful in the former.

Jamie Dornan’s handsome psycho Paul Spector is the series’ main calling card. A young family man and bereavement counsellor, he leads a dual life as a strangler of women. And he is feeding a growing habit. Dornan’s performance is a strong one, and Cubitt repeatedly succeeds at pulling off the old Hitchcock trick of making us fear that the murderer will be caught. The fourth episode is particularly strong in this regard, and also the most stomach-churning in content.

There have been entirely legitimate debates about the depiction of violence against women in the wake of the series. Obviously, if you’re going to watch a series about a serial killer (since they are invariably male and prey on women), you’re likely to be forearmed regarding its content. And, in general, it seemed that this was appropriately uncomfortable viewing without the writer revelling in the most extreme situations he could think of (unlike the second season of Luther, which was wall-to-wall with that kind of plotting).

As such, I didn’t feel it was being gratuitous until the end of the run; the discovery that the resolution isn’t a resolution, it’s actually carrot dangling permanently out of reach, is a cheat. If the author chooses not to provide catharsis, he needs to at least leave the viewer with something of substance to mull over. But the final episode suggests a house of cards of inconsistencies and poor plotting (and dialogue); the police ought to have been able to wrap things up in another twenty minutes or so. It’s a shameless ploy in the worst sense; all the shocking moments depicted are just a game on the part of the writer after all, designed to prod the viewer to come back for more. There’s no moral dimension or insight, as in the scripts Jimmy McGovern wrote for Cracker.

By the “finale” (an inappropriate description if ever there was one) even Dornan is suffering under the weight of the increasingly rote dialogue and plotting. “We’re very alike”, he tells Gillian Anderson’s DSI. Yes, Cubitt actually went there.

Given the liberal forensic evidence, the lengthy voice recording, the video camera footage, his daughter’s artwork and the facial composite (a particularly credulity-stretching convenience, that a friend of Archie Panjabi’s forensic pathologist should have had an encounter with Dornan at university), you wonder that Dornan and family ever made it onto the ferry bound for Scotland. And a surviving victim has just woken up. Fitz certainly wouldn’t have needed two seasons to find him.

Which brings me to the problem of our protagonist. DSI Stella Gibson isn’t very well conceived. There’s little to really mark her out as a deductive maestro; her flourishes are almost entirely reactive, and she spends much of her time duelling with her boss and colleagues over the inherent sexism in the system. To that end, making her distinct by having her display a penchant for one-night stands isn’t particularly inspired. One might even argue it’s reductively sexist in itself (the only way to conceive of an independent, forthright woman is to show her being independent and forthright sexually). Add to that her emotional frostiness and you wonder if Cubitt hasn’t borrowed liberally from the Danish/Swiss The Bridge (aspergic beauty who likes a good shag is also a demon detective).

Anderson’s a much better actress than Sofia Helin, which is fortunate as the only thing that really singles out DSI Gibson is that Gillian lends her far more gravitas than there is on the page. In the first few episodes I thought Gibson’s tendency to reticence was an interesting character beat but, by the finale, when she’s on the phone to Spector liberally indulging in hyperbole (did she actually repeatedly goad him with “You fucked up”?) any aspiration towards depth has evaporated.

This crucial scene is appallingly written, wearing the series’ purported themes as a badge (as long as Gibson speechifies about “age old violence against women” it presumably lets Cubitt off the hook for revelling in it). The back and forth between Spector and Gibson is overwritten and turgid, allowing a Spector a Hannibal Lecter-like self-awareness of his motivation and the erudition to discuss it (“Art gives the chaos of the World an order that doesn’t exist” – come again?) while the best Gibson can come up with is “Is that really why you called me, to expound some half-baked philosophy?

The cast are all very good; I should mention Bronagh Waugh as Spector’s wife, an unrewarding and reactive part performed with nuance. John Lynch, like Anderson, adds more texture to his irresolute boss than the writing deserves; a fellow officer even exclaims, “You’re weak!” in the fifth episode, as if we the viewers can’t be trusted to work it out for ourselves.

I have no idea where the secondary plotline regarding police corruption is going, if it’s going anywhere, and if it links in any way to our personable maniac. It’s rather random if it doesn’t (what, it’s just filler?) and further makes the case that the series has little respect for its audience. It’s curious that this series has staggered so badly; a scene early in the run has a victim’s sister engaged on the phone to a police call centre while help is on the way. It’s an excellent sequence, particularly the way in which the operator connects with the next caller in the line without pause once officers have arrived. The “big” telephone conversation between Gibson and Spector is so clumsy and facile that I don’t hold out much hope for a dramatic pay-off when he’s finally taken into custody. Perhaps they should call Fitz in.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

I didn't kill her. I just relocated her.

The Discovery (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Discovery assembles not wholly dissimilar science-goes-metaphysical themes and ideas to Douglas Trumbull's ill-fated 1983 Brainstorm, revolving around research into consciousness and the revelation of its continuance after death. Perhaps the biggest discovery, though, is that it’s directed and co-written by the spawn of Malcom McDowell and Mary Steenburgen (the latter cameos) – Charlie McDowell – of hitherto negligible credits but now wading into deep philosophical waters and even, with collaborator Justin Lader, offering a twist of sorts.

How many galoshes died to make that little number?

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)
(SPOILERS) Looney Tunes: Back in Action proved a far from joyful experience for director Joe Dante, who referred to the production as the longest year-and-a-half of his life. He had to deal with a studio that – insanely – didn’t know their most beloved characters and didn’t know what they wanted, except that they didn’t like what they saw. Nevertheless, despite Dante’s personal dissatisfaction with the finished picture, there’s much to enjoy in his “anti-Space Jam”. Undoubtedly, at times his criticism that it’s “the kind of movie that I don’t like” is valid, moving as it does so hyperactively that its already gone on to the next thing by the time you’ve realised you don’t like what you’re seeing at any given moment. But the flipside of this downside is, there’s more than enough of the movie Dante was trying to make, where you do like what you’re seeing.

Dante commented of Larry Doyle’s screenplay (as interviewed in Joe Dante, edited by Nil Baskar and G…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.