Review: 'Life of Pi'
BY MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer
Friday, November 23, 2012
11/23/12 at 4:03 AM
Related story: 'Life of Pi' star shares unlikely story of how he landed role of a lifetime.
In watching "Life of Pi" for the purposes of writing a review, I took brief notes, as I always do. In transcribing those notes after the film, I realized I had written the same word again and again: beautiful.
Director Ang Lee has, in films including "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," to "Brokeback Mountain" and "Lust, Caution," proven his eye for elegance. The man makes films that you could pause at any point, and the image on the screen would be suitable for framing.
"Life of Pi" largely concentrates on the story of a teen boy from India stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger as a companion.
Of course, Lee finds beauty in the ocean blue, from the power of a whale emerging from the waters to the glory of hundreds of jellyfish creating a light show beneath the waters.
But he can also see beauty in the fearsome strength of Mother Nature, the symmetry of man and animal alone in the world fighting for survival, and the grace in another creature's touch when all hope is fading.
Beauty is all around us, and Lee recognizes these gifts of the natural world.
The movie based on Yann Martel's best-selling book is more about belief systems and religious faith than any other theme besides the boy-and-tiger plot, but it's all part of the same concept.
"Faith is a house with many rooms, (and still with) room for doubt on many floors," says the title character as an adult, who as a youth in India opened himself to the teaching of Hinduism as well as those of Christianity, the Islamic faith and others.
Irrfan Khan (the star from India known for "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Namesake") plays the adult Khan as a man telling his story to a writer (Rafe Spall) whose friend directed him to Pi as "a man with a story that will make you believe in God."
Khan is superb, as are the two other actors who portray younger versions of Pi, in a film that begins in India and will remind of "Slumdog Millionaire" in its having a cast of performers unknown to American audiences, but who will prove hard to forget.
Newcomer Suraj Sharma plays the teen version of Pi, whose family operates a zoo in India and ultimately leaves for the father's business opportunity in Canada. Their transport of the zoo's animals to sell necessitates booking passage on a freighter, which capsizes in a violent storm with Pi the only member of his family to survive, stranded on a lifeboat.
His companions are the tiger, a hyena, an orangutan and an injured zebra, which is the first to become a victim of the reality of "survival of the fittest" among hungry beasts in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
"Life of Pi" is rated PG, and I saw it with my daughters, ages 12 and 8, and during these few scenes my little one spent considerable time hanging onto my arm, as if she were at a horror film watching a human trapped among wild animals.
The picture is not graphic as the tiger quickly becomes the only animal on board, but the PG rating is derived from "scary action sequences and peril," and the picture delivers on that account.
But the vision of Pi being snapped at by the yippy hyena on the lifeboat, and especially her hearing the guttural, rolling roar of the tiger, made her jumpy. And then she was fine.
The fight for survival is compelling, and Pi's ingenuity and some of his experiences will remind of Tom Hanks' character evolution in "Cast Away."
There is plenty of comedy inherent in the situation, as well, as how-to-train-your-own-tiger proves as simple as training your cat at home.
That said, repetition sets in during Pi's ocean experience, despite it being the most exciting element of the film. The background scenes of the older Pi setting up the adventure take too long to develop and grow tiresome.
I was also disappointed in the ambiguity of the film's ending, especially in the way that it was presented in such a matter-of-fact manner, without any of the magical realism that makes up the rest of the film.
I like surprises, but not this one.
I will simply pretend that Pi's ocean adventure continues, because that's where all the beauty and adventure lie in the motion picture.
These are the moments that add vitality to the "Life of Pi."
‘LIFE OF PI’
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil
Theaters: (in 3-D) AMC Southroads 20,
Cinemark Tulsa, Cinemark Broken Arrow,
Starworld 20, RiverWalk, Owasso,
Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Rated: PG (emotional thematic content
throughout, and some scary action
sequences and peril)
Quality: (on a scale of zero to four
Original Print Headline: Visually stunning film story of faith
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
Newcomer Suraj Sharma takes the title role in "Life of Pi." Twentieth Century Fox/Courtesy
Pi (Suraj Sharma) and a Bengal tiger known as Richard Parker arrive at an uneasy peace in director Ang Lee's "Life of Pi." Twentieth Century Fox/Courtesy