‘Life of Pi,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


A fascinating fable about the meaning of both faith and fate, “Life of Pi” is a wonderfully visual telling of a Yann Martel’s best-selling and award-winning novel.

Director Ang Lee raises the bar on digital imagery, even as he puts it in service to his story. He’s also one of the few directors to use 3D as something other than a gimmick or the money-grab that the studios have turned it into. He doesn’t just give the image a third dimension; he gives the whole film a sense of wondrous depth.

It is as though Lee is painting the film as you watch it. The colors swirl and blend, yet they also define an environment that is at once idyllic and hellish. Shooting on the water – and underneath it, at times – he makes “Life of Pi” a hallucinatory vision of a stark reality.

Told in flashback by the now-adult Pi Patel (played as an adult by Irrfan Khan and as a teen by Suraj Sharma), “Life of Pi” has the aging Patel sitting in his apartment, where he is making dinner for a friend of a friend. The guest says that their mutual acquaintance has told him to ask Pi to tell his story. So Pi obliges.

What follows is a lengthy and sumptuous flashback, offering Pi’s incredible tale. In short: While traveling from his native India to Canada as a teen with a shipload of zoo animals, he was shipwrecked when the ship sank. He wound up on a lifeboat, his only companion an adult male Bengal tiger.

They are adrift in the Pacific Ocean, very quickly suffering the effects of no water or food. Pi must figure out how to keep the tiger at bay, even as they both try to survive thirst and hunger.

But Lee’s movie – and Martel’s book – are about more than the simple castaway tale at the core. Not that there’s anything wrong with enjoying this story simply on the level of an adventure; it works wonderfully in that way, compelling you with suspense, action and even humor.

This review continues on my website.

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