Review: LIFE OF PI (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Review: LIFE OF PI (2012)


Once deemed "unfilmable" by three directors (M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet) who came and exited the big-screen adaptation of Yann Martel's award-winning novel, LIFE OF PI, Taiwanese director Ang Lee takes up the challenge and he succeeds beautifully. LIFE OF PI is one of the year's most cinematic motion pictures ever seen -- it's visually stunning, emotionally gripping and thematically inspiring adventure drama that pushes (almost) all the right buttons.

The movie opens with a young writer (Rafe Spall) eager to hear an amazing story from Pi (Irrfan Khan) about all his life he has been through. Pi's story begins when he's a child (Gautam Belur) who first got his name after the French swimming pool (Piscine Molitor). It's supposed to be a beautiful name but he subsequently changes his name to "Pi" when he starts secondary school, because he is sick of being taunted with the nickname "Pissing Patel" by his fellow classmates. He and his family, consisting of his father Santosh Patel (Adil Hussain), mother Gita (Tabu) and elder brother Ravi (Ayan Khan, Mohd Abbas Khaleeli, Vibish Sivakumar -- all played in different ages), lives on the property of their own exotic zoo in Pondicherry, India. He is a naturally curious boy who develops a special interest for the animals, especially a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker as well as learning three different religions he has come across, and later describes himself as a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Christian. But his father urges him not to take things blindly but rather think rationally and hold science with the same value he does for his faith. He also been taught that he can never make friend with animal. This is especially evident when his father spots him trying to get too close with Richard Parker.

Pi eventually grows up as a 16-year-old adult (newcomer Suraj Sharma) and experience his first love with Anandi (Shravanthi Sainath). But his life takes a detour when he learns that his family is forced to sell their zoo and relocate their animals to Canada. One stormy night where he and his family are aboard a Japanese cargo ship sailing across the Pacific, Pi is awaken by a loud thunderstorm and decides to have a look outside. Suddenly something goes wrong -- the ship's deck begins to sink and panic starts to rise. Pi tries to get back inside and warns his family but everything is too late. As the rest of the passengers, including his family -- all ends up drowned, Pi narrowly escapes in a lifeboat he eventually shares with a zebra.

After the storm, he is lucky to find himself still alive in the lifeboat. The zebra is still there, lying there injured. Then an orangutan nicknamed "Orange Juice" by Pi, who lost her child in the shipwreck, joins in the lifeboat. That's not all -- a hyena appears out of the tarp covering half of the lifeboat and lastly, Richard Parker himself. Pi is particularly terrified with the savage Bengal tiger, and must find way to survive the ordeal.

From the first moment itself, the movie is intoxicating enough to hold your attention. The way how director Ang Lee establishes a serenity, Zen-like tone with a variety shots of the animals in Pi's father's exotic zoo is truly a sight to behold. With the help of Claudio Miranda's lush cinematography and Mychael Danna's soothing score, the opening scene evokes the kind of popular nature documentaries you found in TV's Planet Earth. While the opening act is undeniably slow, it's also crucial that Lee takes his time to establish his characters and the tone before he gets to the main point. At the hand of a lesser director, such approach can be a test of patience but Lee and screenwriter David Magee knows how to endear the viewers to Pi's life story, which is told in such elegant and poignant manner. And like how interesting life story is meant to be told, there's a healthy dosage of gentle humors and heartbreaking moments that feel so vivid, yet involving enough to make you care. By the time the movie reaches midway, Lee hits full gear ahead, beginning with one of the most terrifying storm sequences ever seen in a long time and of course, the subsequent sequence where Pi has to survive with a bunch of animals in the lifeboat. Here, Lee has also delivered some of the most breathtaking visual spectacles ever created in a movie -- at times it feels magical and stunning. Among them are the night scene where Pi encounters a swarm of jellyfish illuminating under the ocean as well as a run-in with a giant whale, and of course the unlikely battle scene with a school of flying fish passing through.

All the cast (mostly unknowns) are exceptionally top-notch. Newcomer Suraj Sharma is a real gem, and definitely a teen prodigy. Prior to this movie, he has no acting experience at all but thanks to his sheer determination and personal guidance by Lee himself, Sharma is very convincing as a teenager struggling against all odds while stranded in the middle of the ocean. Like Tom Hanks' magnificent one-man performance in 2000's CAST AWAY, there's the similar acting impact echoes within Sharma as well. No doubt he can handle both physically and emotionally-demanding scenes like a seasoned actor. Then there's Irrfan Khan, who plays adult Pi with such poignancy. The way he narrates his life story to the young writer is truly mesmerizing, as he captures the tone of a voice filled with enthusiasm and heartfelt emotions. What a remarkable storyteller, he is. Adil Hussain, in the meantime, is perfectly cast as Pi's strict father. Lastly of course, Richard Parker the Bengal tiger itself. You will have a hard time trying to differentiate between the real and fake tiger, thanks to the startlingly photorealistic CGI ever put in a movie. Not only that, Lee also successfully made that tiger a compelling character to watch for.

LIFE OF PI is almost a pitch-perfect movie experience, but Lee stumbles a bit during the finale. The particular finale, especially where it concerns the aftermath of Pi's survival in the ocean, is unnecessarily overlong. That excessive fat aside, LIFE OF PI remains a must-see movie for everyone. 

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