40. Life of Pi (PG) - Runtime: 127 minutes
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan
Director: Ang Lee
Writer: David Magee
Life of Pi was supposed to be unfilmable. The book was simply amazing - but how do you take a book that's almost entirely devoted to telling the story of a boy and a tiger living on a boat. It's one thing to write about it - books can delve off into tangents and explain in lengthy detail events, but movies have to be tightly edited and controlled - and watching a boy and a tiger on a boat seems absolutely boring. But Ang Lee and writer David Magee manage the impossible - not only is Life of Pi watchable, it's most deserving of one the best movies this year!
I'd compare this movie a lot to Cast Away - somehow tales of survival are just riveting to me and what seems like the most mundane of plots or events can be extraordinary tales in these movies (for instance the tooth infection scene in Cast Away). The story has a Titanic opening (I know, a lame reference, but this a device a lot of movies use and most everyone has seen Titanic, so it's an easy reference): a reporter goes to visit a man who claims to have an extraordinary tale that will "make him believe in God." Irrfan Khan is Piscine Molitor Patel (or Pi for short) and he begins his tale talking about his childhood. This is where I thought the movie would ruin it for me. Pi keeps talking about finding religion: he's born into a divided household: his dad's an atheist and his mom is Hindu. He soon finds other religions to embrace: Christianity and Islam. So the movie starts out literally preachy. I found this extremely off-putting because I knew what the film was getting at: faith is essential to our survival. And the first half hour of the movie is beating you over the head with this message and the antithesis of this message: having no faith is just plain wrong and evil. Seriously, his atheist dad comes off as a complete asshole who's basically responsible for his family getting on the ship. Basically his family owned a zoo and they sell off all the animals and decide to move to America to start a new life.
But once the ship wrecks, that's when the movie really starts to kick into full gear. Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat with Richard Parker (the name of the tiger, which has a funny story by itself). After the agonizingly slow beginning, the story really never loses a beat afterwards. I don't want to spoil too much of this movie - part of the charm of this movie is the amazing visuals and surprises that come along. Seriously, this is probably the most beautifully crafted film I've seen since The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Plus the CGI is really, really good. I know for sure that the tiger was mostly animated, but I honestly couldn't tell from looking at it. Everything was just so life-like! If this film doesn't win any technical awards, that will be a shame.
What's really great about this movie is you start to feel like you're a part of it. Ang Lee does a wonderful job of making you feel a part of being on the boat.The movie is always focused on the boat and never strays away from it - and there are some intense scenes of violence that will really scare the bajeezus out of you. The movie is really well-paced and edited, too - it knows when to ratchet up the action (storms, scenes of Pi training Richard Parker to obey him) to gentle scenes of the calm waters in the night or at sunrise.
It's a white-knuckle movie that has it's fair share of calming and beautiful reflective moments. Sure the message in the beginning of the first movie will make you roll your eyes, but you'll soon forgive the beginning once you're transported onto the lifeboat with Richard Parker and Pi. A fantastic movie that you should go see now if you have the chance to see it in theaters.
Rating: See It!