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Life of Pi Film Review

Life of Pi (2012) movie poster Life of Pi

Theatrical Release: November 21, 2012 / Running Time: 127 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Ang Lee / Writers: Yann Martel (novel), David Magee (screenplay)

Cast: Irrfan Khan (Older Pi), Suraj Sharma (Pi Patel), Gérard Depardieu (Frenchman), Rafe Spall (The Writer), Tabu (Pi's Mother), Adil Hussain (Pi's Father), Shravanthi Sainath (Pi's Girlfriend), Ayush Tandon (Young Pi), Andrea Di Stefano (The Priest), Gautam Belur (Young Pi at 5 years), Ayan Khan (Pi's Younger Brother), Vibish Sivakumar (Ravi Patel)

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It's taken a while, but Yann Martel's bestselling 2001 novel has finally made it to the big screen in Life of Pi. In the nine years since Fox acquired the rights, the project was nearly entrusted to M. Night Shyamalan, Children of Men's Alfonso Cuarón, and Amélie's Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Instead, it has ended up an Ang Lee film with a screenplay by David Magee (Finding Neverland, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day). With a reported $100 million budget, this spiritual 3D adventure has high hopes commercially and critically, while expecting to compete in everything from major to technical award categories.

Pi is the nickname adopted by Piscine Patel, whose birth name taken from a French swimming pool makes him the target of schoolboy ridicule. Pi tells his story as a grown-up (a great Irrfan Khan) in present-day comfort to an interested young writer (Rafe Spall, replacing Tobey Maguire via reshoots done in the interest of unrecognizability) who has been referred to him. That framework runs throughout the film, though it thins to infrequent narration during the central bulk set in Pi's adolescence. The device adds weight to the tale, while also removing any doubt that Pi will survive this harrowing experience.

Pi grows up in India (played by Gautam Belur and Ayush Tandon at different ages), his affluent father the owner of a local zoo. As a child, he is very open-minded towards religion and adopts the beliefs and customs of Catholicism and Islam alongside the Hindu faith in which he is raised. His father (Adil Hussain) questions the wisdom of simultaneously subscribing to several contradictory religions, but Pi remains inquisitive and uniquely devout.

Lost at sea, Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) begins to make an extraordinary connection with a fearsome Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

At age 16, Pi (now Suraj Sharma in what is the lead role) is heartbroken to learn that his family is to relocate to Canada and sell off all those zoo animals he has long admired. Severe storms upset the family and their animals' ride in a Japanese boat to Canada, creating the shipwreck scenario for which Martel's novel is known. Pi is separated from his family and the ship's crew, and joined only by a bizarre handful of wild animals, including a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and, above all else, the fierce and majestic Bengal tiger known as Richard Parker, who has mesmerized Pi from a young age.

Stranding a boy, a tiger, and other beasts on a small boat has fascinating dramatic implications. It also demands state-of-the-art visual effects, which Life of Pi delivers in spades.

You know that no sane filmmaker would ask an actor to truly share space with deadly creatures, but your eyes indicate otherwise as the often tense interactions are seamless, convincing, and not the obvious results of ordinary CG and greenscreen trickery. The adventures of teenaged Pi and Richard Parker are soulful, resonant, and life-affirming (especially for cat owners). They recall Tom Hanks' friendship with Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away, only this relationship prevents, rather than facilitates, the loss of one's mind.

The two survivors are partners in fighting dehydration, hunger, and insanity. Their encounters are often larger than life and sometimes completely unbelievable. The questions their experience raises prompts the conclusion that is sure to divide, as Pi's guest and we ourselves are asked to separate fact from fiction, assess the credibility of Pi's tale, and determine the real life implications the answers hold regarding God and faith. That renders this a lot more thoughtful than your typical Thanksgiving weekend opening. Whether that proves detrimental to the film's box office prospects or beneficial in sparking conversation and generating buzz remains to be seen. What does seem certain is that we'll still be hearing about Life of Pi at the end of this year and through the end of Oscar season as one of 2012's most substantial and worthwhile productions.

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Related Reviews:
New in Theaters: Rise of the Guardians | New to Blu-ray: Lawrence of Arabia
Irrfan Khan: The Amazing Spider-ManThe Darjeeling LimitedNew York, I Love You
Adapted by David Magee: Finding Neverland | 2012 Oscar Contenders: LawlessBraveJohn Carter
HugoThe Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouThe Way Back127 Hours3 IdiotsBride & Prejudice

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Reviewed November 21, 2012.

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