Fall is a fascinating character study that makes viewers question the difference between faith and belief in human nature, begging the question of whether or not faith can be maintained in the face of something tragic and horrible. Anytime a film deals with issues of faith or religion, it’s always tricky business because in order for a story on the subject to be compelling there can’t be a black and white perspective, or a sense of right and wrong. People try and fail to differentiate between the institution of a church and following a certain faith, and that struggle comes through nicely in writer and director Terrance Odette’s subtly powerful work.
Father Sam (Michael Murphy) lives a quiet and contended life in a Niagara Falls parish, ministering to his flock the best he can. When a mysterious letter from an old charge arrives, it sends his life into upheaval. They spent time together at an old cottage up north during a church retreat nearly 40 years ago, and something terrible happened. Haunted by his memories as a teenager, Father Sam is forced to ask if he did anything wrong, and if he did will his faith allow him to live with it?
Fall forces looks at not only some of the more obvious trappings of religion, but at a man who’s just as confused about his faith as some of his parishioners are, especially now that he finds himself questioning his entire life’s purpose. It’s a man being forced to look inside himself for the first time instead of sermonizing to the outside world, and it terrifies him.
It’s unquestionably a touchy subject once the film reveals what happened, but Odette tackles the material with aplomb and ease that it never once feels forced or awkward in any way. Father Sam is a shepherd to a world of lost people, but it might turn out to be the blind leading the blind. They don’t know how to apply faith to their lives, and everyone is struggling to find answers. The film preaches an interesting message that often gets overlooked in films dealing with religious beliefs. Every journey is internalized, not grandstanding or obvious at first. Odette has an eye and ear for realistic human tragedy, and the way he balances that with the ethereal can be quite stunning in the film’s strongest moments.
Murphy gives his best work since the 1970’s, in a brave but understated performance. This is a man losing his faith rapidly and trying in vain to make sense of everything around him, and yet it’s played with such subtely and introspection that the film never lapses or lurches into melodrama. Murphy lets the emotion creep in naturally and with great measure, allowing plenty of room for the material to breathe and for the audience to draw their own conclusions. Murphy manages to relate to every character that he encounters, be it the gay Iranian man (Cas Anvar) mourning the death of his mother, the young newlywed desperate to get married even though it might not be for the right reasons (Katie Boland), the frustrated former addict and choir leader trying to get his life back together (Joel Bisonette), and even his free spirited sister (Wendy Crewson) because they’re all looking for their own answers. They look to him, but watching Murphy play a man trying to give guidance while struggling on his own terms is revelatory.
Nothing gets answered in this story and honestly it isn’t supposed to. That’s the point of the entire movie. Much like the similarly themed Calvary earlier this year, there are things that need solving, but no one will ever find perfect solace or enlightenment. It’s about the sum of the life that has been lived. Fall is one of those movies that will spark one hell of a conversation afterwards. It tackles issues of faith and self worth in some very interesting ways, forcing viewers to apply their own feelings to the story which is exactly what stories that get told in church every Sunday are meant to do in the first place. Only this might do it better.