out of Five
Running time: 127
Beautifully shot and superbly written, this is an emotionally engaging, thought provoking drama with jaw-dropping special effects work and a superb central performance from Suraj Sharma.
What's it all about?
Directed by Ang Lee, Life of Pi is based on the long-thought-unfilmable award-winning novel by Yann Martel and opens with a grown-up Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) telling his astonishing story to a writer (Rafe Spall, standing in for Martel), who intends to turn it into a book. As a child, Pi (played by Gautum Belur, Ayush Tandon and finally Suraj Sharma) grew up on a zoo owned by his parents (Adil Hussain and Tabu), but when financial difficulties set in, they decide to emigrate to Canada, taking the animals with them.
However, when the ship is wrecked during a catastrophic storm, Pi finds himself the sole survivor and winds up stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with only an orang-utan, a zebra, a hyena and a fierce tiger named Richard Parker for company. After various battles between the hungry animals reach their natural conclusion, Pi realises he'll have to find some way to co-exist with Richard Parker if he's going to survive.
Suraj Sharma is superb as Pi, carrying more or less the entire film on his shoulders; it's a testament to the likeability of his performance that you never get tired of hearing him say the words ‘Richard Parker’. There's also strong support from both Spall and Khan, as well as a bizarre single-scene cameo from Gerard Depardieu that turns out to be Important For Later.
The thought-provoking script is excellent, raising intriguing themes surrounding the existence of God (tellingly, the teenage Pi has adopted Buddhism, Christianity and Islam) but letting the audience reach their own conclusions about the overall meaning of the tiger's tale, without resorting to heavy-handedness or preaching.
The film is beautifully shot, courtesy of cinematographer Claudio Miranda, whose vibrant, colourful camerawork is extremely impressive throughout; there even seems to be less of an issue with light loss than is usual for 3D films. By the same token, the 3D work is exceptional and really brings the reality of Pi's environment to life; one particular 3D highlight occurs when Pi throws a message sealed in a can out towards the camera and it lands a pathetic distance from the boat, with no wind or waves to move it.
The film is further heightened by some jaw-dropping special effects work, particularly on the animals themselves (alongside some nifty actual tiger-wrangling, whenever Sharma is safely out of shot), but also on the gorgeous land and seascapes, especially an aerial shot revealing the undersea world and all the different creatures beneath the lifeboat.
Superbly directed, beautifully shot and featuring some state-of-the-art effects work, Life of Pi is an engaging, thought-provoking and ultimately moving drama that won't disappoint fans of the novel. Highly recommended.