What It's About
A breathtakingly beautiful film featuring the best 3-D since "Avatar," "Life of Pi" is a heart-tugging fable of survival against enormous odds. A young man's journey of self-discovery is framed as a battle against the elements, man vs. nature, and facing our biggest fears.
Adapted from Yann Martel's best-selling 2001 novel, bright teen Piscine Molitor Patel, aka Pi, finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, a zebra, hyena and orangutan, traveling animals from his father's zoo. Lost at sea after the freighter carrying his family from India to Canada goes down in a fierce storm, Pi navigates the South Pacific, trying to stay alive as days turn into weeks, then months.
His faith is tested, and for someone who became enamored with Christianity and Islam as a Hindu-born youth, Pi's relationship to God(s) is essential to this adventure.
The three males who play Pi at various junctures are endearing --- starting with the adorable Ayush Tandon as the schoolboy Pi, growing up in a lush garden and exotic zoo; charming newcomer Suraj Sharma as the resourceful 17-year-old survivor (a remarkable debut) whose insatiable curiosity about life beyond the pages of the books he devours sustains him; and a mellow Irrfan Khan ("Slumdog Millionaire") as the philosophical adult Pi, now a college professor. Gerard Depardieu is seen briefly as an obnoxious cook on the ship. Nowhere could I find Tobey Maguire, who is listed in the credits.
The colors burnish bright here, creating a magical look. Many considered this book, by virtue of its allegorical story, difficult to turn into a movie, but Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain") has managed to tell this fascinating and complex parable his way, and it works more than it doesn't. It's quite a yarn. In his unhurried style, Lee slowly unveils this drama, allows it room to breath, thus it becomes a springboard for numerous metaphysical questions about life. Infused with such splendid visuals, this unique, enigmatic work evokes a sense of wonder that's rare in contemporary movies.
What Doesn't Work
Hint for all who didn't read the book -- the film is not to be taken literally. The middle drags, especially as the story veers into esoteric territory. The artistry is undeniable, so that compensates for the sometimes wobbly plot.
3 1/2 stars out of 4
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Gerard Depardieu
Rated: PG for emotional themes throughout, some scary action sequences and peril