Posted by: pop-break | November 26, 2012

Review: Life of Pi

daniel cohen’s got a boat…

Plot: The story of Pi (Suraj Sharma), and how he got shipwrecked on a lifeboat as he struggles to survive both the elements, and a fierce Bengal tiger that has also survived the accident.

If you ever wanted to see a Jungle Book sequel in which Mowgli and Shere Khan become best friends, then this is your movie. But if you aren’t one of those people, you’ll still find director Ang Lee’s latest opus, Life of Pi, to be quite enjoyable, even if it does feel like a JV Cast Away. And while there’s no Wilson the Volleyball, there is a terrifying Bengal tiger to keep our protagonist busy. And it is the relationship between Pi and the tiger, who’s oddly named Richard Parker, that absolutely drives this film.

What makes this relationship so powerful is that they actually develop it back when Pi is a child. Pi from a very early age is fascinated by religion. This makes him very different from his father Santosh (Adil Hussain) who’s very much a science guy, all about facts and reason. And yes, there is a lot of religion Vs. science in this movie, but it doesn’t distract from what’s important, and that is the character of Pi. But there’s a very intense scene between the child Pi and his dad that centers around this tiger that is so gut-wrenching, it makes Pi’s reunion with Richard Parker years later that much more interesting.

The bulk of this film is spent on a lifeboat with Pi and Richard Parker. Imagine being alone on a lifeboat with a tiger at close proximity for many weeks…and that’s where the power of this film lies. Ang Lee does a great job of getting a wide variety of emotions out of this conflict. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s suspenseful, and sometimes it’s downright terrifying. These guys could basically pass for The Odd Couple — they have to learn how to survive with each other, and seeing that develop throughout the film is incredible to watch. And when this relationship finally comes to an end, it was an incredibly satisfying climax.

But as much as this was the film’s biggest strength, it was also it’s greatest weakness. Even though watching Pi and Richard Parker interact was fascinating, the film drags quite a bit. There are just so many times we can watch Pi being really uneasy about this tiger who could snap at any minute. While I joked earlier about this being a JV Cast Away, I was really only half kidding. While the relationship between Tom Hanks and the volleyball certainly isn’t as deep and layered as it is with Pi and Richard Parker, I have to say that Hanks and the volleyball kept their bond more entertaining all the way through. And the fact of the matter is that the majority of this film is pretty much a one man show, and while Suraj Sharma is great as Pi, he can’t carry a movie like Hanks can.

One of the other strengths of this film are the aesthetics. The film looks gorgeous, and there is some absolutely breath taking cinematography. Just watching some of the images at sea is mesmerizing. And I can appreciate the visuals in a movie like this, because it never takes away from the character or story, which is why I shrug my shoulders at something like Avatar. The only problem is that these visuals are really repetitive. How many times do we need to see the water glow as an army of fish swim around in it? How many times do we need to see sharks circling Pi’s lifeboat? It does get a little tiresome, and adds to the film dragging on.

Speaking of fish, there’s a crap load of animals strutting around in this movie. And while I’m sure a lot of it was CG, it was nice to see animals act somewhat like real animals as we are so over-saturated with animals who are played for comedy in all forms of media. As the ship that Pi is on goes down, there are animals we see struggling to swim, and the way they move and act adds a lot of uncomfortable tension, and I mean that in a good way. Before it’s just the tiger, there’s a few other animals left on the lifeboat with Pi that add to this great tension, including an injured zebra, and the biggest jackass hyena ever to appear on film. In this sequence, we also get one of the greatest close up shots of all time that will really knock you on your ass. I won’t spoil it, other than it involves the tiger.

If you want to watch a movie that is light, colorful, and makes you feel all inspirational, then Life of Pi is your ticket. There’s a lot of power to this movie, but despite some good back and forth conversation between Pi and his dad in the first act, it doesn’t really get going till mid-way through. The acting is solid all around, but nothing to write home about. There’s also an twist they pull at the end that I felt was really unnecessary. It’s like the script had reached it’s natural conclusion, but the writers got all antsy and had to add something else. It’s a very good movie, but a few tweaks away from being great.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

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