With gorgeous widescreen cinematography, arresting battle sequences, star-crossed romance, and a sweeping score, 'Day of the Falcon' appears to have all the right cinematic ingredients for an engrossing motion picture epic. Unfortunately, just having all the essential components isn't always enough. The pieces actually have to fit together in a compelling way, and sadly, despite some occasional merit, the film's grandiose intentions mostly fall flat. It looks pretty and features some decent thematic material, but the old-fashioned plotting and thin characterizations result in a surprisingly limp and tedious experience. It turns out that stunning desert vistas can only carry a film so far, especially when all that's layered beneath all that pretty sand is just... more sand.
Based on the book "South of the Heart: A Novel of Modern Arabia," the story chronicles hostilities between two Arab rulers during the early 20th century. In order to maintain peace among their warring parties, one of the rulers, Sultan Amar (Mark Strong), is forced to relinquish his two young sons to the other, Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas). As time passes, the boys grow into men, and the youngest son, Prince Auda (Tahar Rahim), falls in love with Nesib's daughter, Princess Leyla (Freida Pinto). When oil is discovered in the neutral lands between the kingdoms, the truce is suddenly threatened. Now caught between differing ideologies, Prince Auda will have to decide where his true loyalties lie, and eventually finds himself holding the very future of the region in his hands.
In general, epics are well known for their slow pace and expansive runtimes, but here, pacing issues really end up being a major concern. It isn't that the film is too long (it's only a little over two hours) -- it's just that the time isn't utilized well. The first half of the movie is heavy on narrative set ups, slowly establishing the premise, but the meandering plotting leads to a listless rhythm that feels rather choppy. Even worse, despite the lengthy preamble, character development is surprisingly glossed over, and even after an hour with the cast, one feels like they barely know them.
Outside of their core motivations and broad archetypes, the characters are all thinly defined, making it difficult to buy into their emotions and choices. Similarly, the central romance that rests at the center of the narrative is sadly underdeveloped and melodramatic. The writers rely on a tried-and-true star-crossed love scenario, but oddly do very little with the concept. To this end, Freida Pinto essentially disappears for the majority of the film, robbing the relationship of any real impact. As a whole, the storytelling style tries to emulate the grand, old-fashioned drama of Hollywood epics, but the script lacks the texture and vision of the classics it tries to emulate. Dialogue often comes across as a bit silly (especially whenever it's coming out of Antonio Banderas' mouth), and intentional attempts at comic relief feel very artificial and calculated.
With all that said, once the main conflict finally kicks into gear around the half way point, the movie picks up considerably. These later portions are packed with exciting battle sequences, and the action is all nicely staged, offering an effective sense of scope and danger. In fact, the visuals and production design are quite impressive throughout, thoroughly engrossing the audience in the drama. The central dilemma also engenders some interesting thematic questions dealing with the concepts of faith and greed. The two kings come to represent dueling philosophies about how to use, or not use, the oil in the land, pitting love and tradition against materialism and progress. Sadly, few of these ideas are explored deeply enough, and while there are some intriguing conversations here and there, the script ultimately leaves a lot to be desired.
While most of the characterizations are disappointingly two dimensional, Prince Auda's overarching transformation from peaceful scholar to fearless leader is actually nicely realized. On that note, Tahar Rahim does well, and helps to elevate the role beyond its limited conception on the page. Likewise, Mark Strong also does a good job with what he has to work with, once again proving that he's one of the most reliable actors working today -- though it is a bit odd that he keeps getting cast as Arabic characters considering his British, Austrian, and Italian roots. Even more puzzling is the inclusion of Antonio Banderas. Don't get me wrong, the 'Desperado' star turns in a solid performance, but it's a little hard to buy him as a Sultan, especially since his thick Spanish accent is, well... a thick Spanish accent!
'Day of the Falcon' tries to reach the same limitless heights as classic Hollywood epics, but these superficial similarities only end up further illuminating the movie's many flaws. While there are some impressive visuals and action scenes, the story lacks the literary texture and depth that make masterpieces like 'Lawrence of Arabia' so special. The performances are decent but –- wait a second, 'Day of the Falcon?' Why the hell is this movie called 'Day of the Falcon?!' Sorry to abruptly change the subject, but I'm just now realizing that the title makes absolutely no sense. Sure, one of the characters flies falcons early on, but this isn't a major plot point. Apparently the movie was originally called 'Black Gold.' Given the heavy importance of oil in the story, that title actually makes sense. Not sure why they changed it, but if 'Day of the Falcon' is the best the producers could come up with, I think I now have a better understanding of why the movie is so underwhelming. Still, whatever you call it, the flick just isn't particularly good. Perhaps, 'Mediocre Desert Epic' would have been more to the point.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment brings 'Day of the Falcon' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. After some skippable trailers, the screen transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Fueled by an epic scope and incredible sets and locations, the film is littered with stunning wide shots of vast desert vistas and exotic landscapes, resulting in a thoroughly impressive image.
Shot with a mixture of film and digital cameras, the source is in pristine shape. A light layer of grain is visible throughout adding some nice texture to the picture. With that said, there are a few shots where the grain levels noticeably spike and look a tad noisy. Clarity is exceptional throughout, revealing sharp fine details and crystal clear dimension. The intricate production design, set constructions, and lavish cinematography are beautifully rendered in all their glory, with no major technical concerns. Colors are nicely saturated, offering pleasing pop, particularly in certain wardrobe choices. White levels are bright and well balanced, and while shadow delineation is strong, blacks are slightly elevated in nighttime scenes.
Though its storytelling might be hit and miss, there is no denying that 'Day of the Falcon' is a beautiful looking film. Thankfully, this disc does the cinematography justice, resulting in a very strong transfer.
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track along with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. While not as consistently engaging as one might expect, the mix becomes very immersive during the movie's various battle scenes, fully engrossing the audience in the action.
Dialogue is clear, clean, and well prioritized throughout. The first half of the film is relatively quiet, but the mix does come alive with occasional ambiance and directionality, offering a slightly limited but still engaging soundscape. Delicate effects like rustling wind are spread nicely around the room, and James Horner's sweeping score features strong separation. Once the battles start, however, the track really kicks into gear. Gunshots, swooping planes, galloping horses, and powerful explosions engulf the listener in the on-screen conflicts with smooth imaging and a fairly expansive soundfield. Dynamic range is wide and low frequencies give a commanding presence to all the piercing bullets and gushing oil.
When off the battlefield, the sound design lacks much in the way of nuance, scope, or auditory texture, but during the action scenes the audio becomes fully enveloping and powerful, leaving a strong impression.
Image Entertainment has put together a slim but informative collection of supplements, including a very interesting making of documentary. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with DTS-HD 2.0 audio and hardcoded subtitles for the foreign language portions (unless noted otherwise).
'Day of the Falcon' is a visually striking attempt at epic filmmaking that gets held back by thin characterization and listless plotting. The video transfer is quite impressive, and while not consistently engaging, the audio mix is very immersive during the movie's action scenes. Supplements aren't exactly plentiful, but the included making of documentary is very informative. The film pales in comparison to the classics it tries to emulate, but fans of grandiose moviemaking might want to give this a rent.