LIFE OF PI
(director: Ang Lee; screenwriters: David Magee/Yann Martel/based on the novel by Yann Martel; cinematographer: Claudio Miranda; editor: Tim Squyres; music: Mychael Danna; cast: Suraj Sharma (Pi Patel at 16), Ayush Tandon (Pi Patel, 11 to 12 years old), Gautam Belur (Pi Patel at 5), Irrfan Khan (Adult Pi Patel), Tabu (Gita Patel), Adil Hussain (Santosh Patel), Rafe Spall (Writer), Shravanthi Sainath (Pi’s girlfriend), Vibish Sivakumar (Ravi Patel), Gérard Depardieu (Cook), Andrea Di Stefano (The Priest); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Gil Netter/Ang Lee /David Womark; 20th Century Fox; 2012-in English, Tamil, French, Japanese, with English subtitles when necessary )
“A well-crafted and intelligent feel-good survivalist film that struggles to survive its obsessive religious God theme.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s based on the preposterous allegorical 2001 Booker Prize-winning bestseller by Yann Martel, about New Age faith as a means for survival, that was deemed unfilmable by almost everyone but Ang Lee (“Taking Woodstock”/”Brokeback Mountain”/”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”).The tall tale tells about the adventures of a shipwrecked teenager named Pi (Suraj Sharma) stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a starving Bengal tiger and who survives because he has a tiger in his tank and does not treat the tiger as if he were human.
The flawlessly filmed travelogue/family film, must survive some clunky metaphorical moments that call for corny meaningful eye contact between the human and the beast. Nevertheless, it plays out as a well-crafted and intelligent feel-good survivalist film that struggles to survive its obsessive religious God theme, one meant to prove God’s existence–something even Lee disavows as the spiritual film’s aim, a theme he wisely peddles with only lip service to the book. David Magee writes the sparse and humorous dialogue for the faithful to the book screenplay, that gives the viewer time and pause to meditate on life. The beautiful breakthrough 3D technology makes the old-fashioned story visually pleasing as so much eye candy. It was shot on location in India, as well as in a giant tank in Lee’s native Taiwan.
Canadian wide-eyed writer (Rafe Spall) visits the adult married family man and college professor Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) in Montreal to hear his fantastic castaway survival story when he was a lad of 16. The adult Pi provides the narration that begins in the serenetown of Pondicherry, a former French colony in southern India. At the age of 11, Pi’s (Ayush Tandon) hotel owner dad (Adil Hussain) bought a zoo.The most startling animal is a fierce Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, who was named for the hunter that bagged him. Pi, named by a swimming freak uncle for a Paris swimming pool, is blessed living with a caring open-minded Hindu family that includes his warm mom (Tabu) and protective few years older brother (Vibish Sivakumar). At age 12 Pi finds an interest in Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, and vows to believe in all three religions.A few years later he falls in love with a young dancer (Shravanthi Sainath).Pi at 16 is disheartened that hard times have hit his community and family, and they are moving to Canada and will sell the animals there. Aboard a Japanese cargo ship, during a severe storm at night, somehow the ship sinks and the panicked Pi finds himself as the only human survivor of the shipwreck on a lifeboat big enough for 30 people. Accompanying Pi on the lifeboat are an injured zebra, an orangutan, a crazed shrieking hyena and Richard Parker. Soon, after the hyena disposes of the zebra andorangutan, there’s left on board just Pi and the tiger, with a fearful Pi moving out to reside in his makeshift raft that he connects by rope to the lifeboat.The gist of the film depicts how Pi learned to live with the fierce animal at sea and survive being stranded at sea for 227 days until rescued on a Mexican beach. There’s also a day/night stopover on a carnivorous island populated by meerkats, where Pi stores up on food before returning to the sea with his tiger companion.
All three actors playing Pi give convincing performances. The 17-year-old Suraj Sharma, the film’s star, was chosen from among 12,000 candidates even though he had no acting experience. The compelling tale offers many wonders to contemplate, but drifts for long periods while out at sea that causes some tedium and reduces the lyrical madness needed to get over its flat storytelling and misguided soppy sing-song voice-over framing device. To keep everyone safe, the real looking tiger is a CGI creation.In real-life, to survive a shipwreck with a 450-pound tiger as a traveling companion would have indeed been a miracle, and the pic peddles its miracle as an act of faith that a guardian angel is around to protect the vigilant who can still keep the faith in bad times.