18 December 2012

Life of Pi

Suraj Sharma is shown in a scene from "Life of Pi."

Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" has grand ambitions. It aims to be an epic tale of survival and wonder, filled with exquisite special effects. It mostly succeeds but falls short in one crucial area.

This is the story of an Indian boy named Piscine Patel, after a swimming pool in France. He adopts the moniker "Pi" after schoolmates notice the similarity between his name and a term for a particular bodily function.

Raised at a zoo and as a Hindu, Pi spends much of his childhood exploring Christianity and Islam in an effort to love and understand God.

As Pi reaches his teens, his family sells off the zoo and, along with some of their animals, boards a Japanese freighter bound for Canada and a new life. A shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean changes those plans. His father, mother and brother never to be seen again, Pi finds himself adrift on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra and a Bengal Tiger named, due to a clerical error, "Richard Parker." Soon, it's down to just the boy and the tiger.

Richard Parker is no Disney creation; he's a fearsome beast, and Pi's challenge is not only to survive the elements but to avoid being mauled and eaten by his shipmate. During months at sea, the resourceful Pi finds ways to keep his distance from and start to train the dangerous animal, and keep both of them fed.

The animals, as well as the ocean environment that serves as the setting for the bulk of the movie, are mostly computer creations, and the visual effects team does astounding work bringing them to life. Richard Parker is beautiful, graceful and a deadly threat at all times.

The tiger Richard Parker reacts to the sudden appearance of a school of flying fish in a scene from "Life of Pi."
Based on a novel by Yann Martel, with a screenplay by David Magee ("Finding Neverland"), this is an inspiring tale of two beings who are so different but cannot survive without the other. It's also gorgeous to behold, its open water and sky so surreally bright and vivid.

The flaw is that much of the movie rests on the shoulders of one actor—Suraj Sharma, portraying the teenage Pi—who isn't quite capable of carrying such a burden. It could not have been an easy task acting opposite animals that would be inserted in post-production in a setting that wasn't there either, but Sharma simply is not convincing enough. This requires a performance with the power of James Franco's in "127 Hours," and that's missing here. In fact, I preferred the performance of Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi, who tells his story to a writer (Rafe Spall), to Sharma's.

We're left, then, with a film that is a visual marvel, with an extraordinary story, that's dragged down by a very ordinary lead actor. A stronger performance could have made a good movie great.

Greg's Grade: B

(Rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril. 127 minutes.)


Anonymous said...

I'd like to know if this review was an actual rotten comment? Because I'm not sure if you consider a 'B' grade rotten or not, and if not could you get rotten tomatoes to change it to a fresh.

MovieGuy said...

Suraj was a fine actor, and I see your one of the few critics who seemed to have a problem with him. Though, I'm not sure if this is a rotten comment, because it seems you gave this a rather high rating.

GREG MAKI said...

It was supposed to be fresh. That was my mistake, and it's been fixed. Thanks for pointing that out.