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Film Review : Life of Pi

Nov 25, 2012 07:04AM ● By Justin Buettner

An Indian boy, Pi, survives a shipwreck and is stranded at sea with the only other survivor, a Bengal tiger. Through their adventure the two forge a relationship as they fight for survival in the rugged Pacific Ocean. This miraculous experience also helps Pi, who believes in four different religions, find his faith in God and the meaning of his life.

This is a wonderful character study that bravely touches upon religion, God, and the meaning of life in an unique way. Unlike recent films Tree of Life and Prometheus, Life of Pi actually succeeds. Instead of merely asking questions, Life of Pi gives answers to the big questions such as the meaning of life and what is God. Without spoiling the end of the film, the clear answer the movie provides is purpose, and as simple of an answer it is, when thought about it is profound (and the subject of a popular religious book by the way). The writers and filmmakers do not use the movie as a philosophical lecture as other films about big ideas have, but are content to let the lead character Pi demonstrate their theories. Although the voiceover and message are delivered a little too bluntly, I still think they let the viewer figure a lot out for themselves and they also leave room to take from the film what you wish. It is a really well thought out story from start to finish.

Having worked as Darius Khondji’s assistant for a decade, Claudio Miranda has certainly learned well. Claudio Miranda is relatively new as a cinematographer but he has quickly cemented his name as one of the best in the business with this film. Life of Pi is hands down the best visual film of the year and perhaps of the last decade. The filmmakers here combine stunning photography with a mix of different styles of effects to bring an unique vision to the screen. Not since Amelie have I been so awestruck by imagery on display. The use of composition, light and color is put to use like paint to a canvas. Even a simple shot of a man swimming in a pool is transformed into a breathtaking piece of art. The camera almost acts like a character in the film and bring the fantastical out of real life to make a hyper-reality world that is full of wonder. The use of the 3D medium is actually put to good use; this is a rare film that the 3D surcharge is definitely worth the extra expense.

Ang Lee is an award winning director and he shows off why with this masterpiece. This is his best film since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The way he delivers this experience in a surreal way while still keeping the story grounding is spectacular. His ability to pace the action and the drama to keep the film moving forward or to pause for reflection is key for the film’s message to shine through. Not to mention Ang Lee’s ability to draw strong performances from all of his cast, which includes first time performers.

Suraj Sharma’s first experience as an actor is in the role of Pi, and he does a phenomenal job. He is completely believable in both the role of lovesick teenager and scared and stranded victim at sea faced with taming a Bengal Tiger to survive. His performance is truly one of the year’s best as his soulful looks lend legitimacy to the deep subject matter the film tackles. The other lead was the Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker. There were moments when the tiger was clearly CGI, but by in large I could not tell between what was a real tiger and what was fake. The performance by the big cat itself was remarkable. The realism inserted in Richard Parker’s performance was every bit as effective and essential as Suraj Sharma’s performance.

The only issue I had with Life of Pi was starting the movie with Pi as an adult telling the tale. It may better explain the voiceover the movie employs, but I felt knowing the main character survived from the very start took away some of the tension of wondering if Pi would survive the ordeal. I have not read the original novel, so I could not tell you how closely the movie adapts the book, but I can safely say that you need not read the book to enjoy the film.

Life of Pi is an unique movie that comes along and entertains, educates, makes you think, and completely engulfs you with a style and art you have not seen before. Truly one of the best films of the year and one that will offer almost everyone something who sees it. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Life is Pi is how absolutely ambitious it is in both material and substance and that it manages to stick the landing on both accounts. This will be one of the films a decade from now people will remember, and remember fondly. Please see this movie on the theaters too, it is a film that absolutely deserves to be experienced on the big screen. To sum up Life of Pi, a truly wonderful film.

Films like Life of Pi : 127 Hours, Cast Away, and Slumdog Millionaire

Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.

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