December 30, 2012

MOVIES: Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012)

Life of Pi is a gorgeously photographed movie, and one of the few I've ever seen that made me wish I were able to watch movies in 3D, because I think it would be even more spectacular in that format.

Unfortunately, that is the only nice thing I can say about the movie, which is a treacly fable that explicitly promises to "make [us] believe in God," then yanks the rug out from underneath us by revealing itself to be simply a pretty lie covering up a mundane tale of human cruelty and brutality. (Which, come to think it, actually is a pretty good summary of many religious myths, so maybe the movie is accomplishing its goal after all.)

The bulk of the movie is spent with young Pi (Suraj Sharma, making his acting debut) on a small lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The tiger is a CGI creation, and its scenes are never quite convincing, because Sharma doesn't have the talent or the experience to convince us that it's really there, or that he's genuinely afraid. In fairness, there are plenty of more experienced actors who don't do that very well, either, but it's an awfully tough thing to demand of a rookie.

Sharma's inexperience is only highlighted by the movie's framing device, in which the adult Pi is played by the very fine Irrfan Khan, who is telling his tale of survival to a writer (the character is a nonentity, existing only to recite variations on "and then what happened,?" and Rafe Spall is adequate to the role's limited demands). Khan brings vastly more life and richness to the role than Sharma does, and does so despite the fact that he's saddled with the worst of the movie's spiritual psychobabble.

If you feel you must see the movie, you really should see it while it's still in theaters (unless you have a really amazing home theater system); the visuals will lose a lot shrunk down to TV size. But good as they are, those visuals were not enough to make up for the dishonest sentiment, New Age twaddle, and sanctimony of the story.

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