Sometimes life throws you curveballs. Sometimes things don't go the way you envisioned. And sometimes you end up stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean trapped in a lifeboat with a hungry Bengal tiger. I really hate when that third situation arises.
Life of Pi is the dreamlike new drama from director Ang Lee, and it is his best movie since 2005's Brokeback Mountain. Entertaining and visually stunning, the movie manages to execute a novel that many who have read it have declared "unfilmable." Unlike this year's other unfilmable film Cloud Atlas, it is a more reasonable two hours in length and at its core features only two characters.
Suraj Sharma plays Pi Patel, an Indian teenager who is traveling to America with his family when a massive storm sinks their ship. He survives the storm along with one of his father's zoo animals. The tiger's name is Richard Parker, and there is no denying that through an impressive combination of real animal footage and near-seamless CGI, Richard Carter is indeed a lead character.
Though the movie is bookended by modern day scenes featuring Irrfan Khan, Sharma carries a large portion of the film on his shoulders. He does a superb job - not an Oscar-worthy performance, but one that should be celebrated, especially considering this is his first movie.
The rest of the load falls on Ang Lee and his art and visual effects team. Lee is able to tap into the minds and emotions of his characters - including Richard Parker - extremely well, exuding their sense of fear and desperation when they alone cannot. But Life of Pi will be best remembered for its often surreal visual effects, which expand the film beyond its isolated locale - a rowboat - to encompass the massive world that surrounds it. The movie is simply beautiful.
Life of Pi is a well made movie that exceeds expectations. It is emotional, entertaining and beautiful. It is unique in its execution and intriguing to watch. While I won't rank it in my top ten movies of the year, I am excited to see how it will be received by audiences, critics and award voters alike.
Sometimes life throws you curveballs, but sometimes being trapped in a rowboat with a hungry Bengal tiger isn't a bad thing.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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