EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a capsule review. A full version will be published once the film is released theatrically.
Everybody loves a good fairytale, especially when that fairytale is directed at adults. Does anything truly mix better with dragons, giants, and ogres than sex, violence, and swearing? Series like HBO’s Game of Thrones have proved that this is surely not the case. On paper, Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales should work, and for a few moments it does, before fizzling out and becoming tedious.
In a mythical world live three kings: The King of Longtrellis (John C. Riley), the King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassell), and the King of Highhills (Toby Jones). The film opens with Longtrellis and his wife (Salma Hayek) in desperation for a child. A mysterious man informs them of the one way that they can conceive. The King must kill a sea monster and remove its heart, which is to be cooked by a virgin and then eaten by the queen.
Sounds exciting, right? It is, but the problem is is that this part of the film is over after the first fifteen minutes. After the prologue, the stories of each of the kings play out in a similar fashion, but at two hours long, Tale of Tales overstays its welcome, feeling like a Terry Gilliam project gone wrong.
On the surface, Garrone’s film is gorgeous. Veteran cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Empire Strikes Back) brings the screenplay to life in a perfectly oversaturated fashion, and his framing of Salma Hayek gruesomely devouring the sea monster’s heart is breathtaking. This is among the many examples of masterwork by Suschitzky, who is given plenty to work with in Garrone’s script.
Some spectacular moments do pervade the film, such as the aforementioned heart-eating scene, Riley hunting the sea monster and Jones befriending a giant flea. But while these sequences provide moments of wonder, they fail to add up to anything substantial. At times, Tale of Tales is a delightful film, but with nowhere to go, the tale feels endless.
With only brief glimpses of a coherent film, Tale of Tales is a flat and overlong misfire.