Life of Pi Movie Review 2 53

Life of Pi movie review

The term visually stunning gets thrown around a lot these days without it truly being justified but Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is just that. Resplendent and vibrant, it’s a film which never fails to engage on a visual level even if it too often leans into slow and indulgent territory.

Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Yann Martel, Life of Pi tells the story of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel (Suraj Sharma), a young boy who grows up in Pondicherry, India with his family who own a zoo. One day his father decides to sell the zoo, travelling with the animals by cargo boat to North America where he will sell them and start a new life with his family. However, on the journey they hit a bad storm and the ship sinks, leaving Pi stranded on a lifeboat along with a zebra, hyena and a fully grown Bengal tiger.

Ang Lee is a diverse and inventive director when he wants to be and it’s his visual flourishes and subtle nuances that lend Life of Pi its beguiling quality. The plot is amazing enough on its own but Lee finds ever more interesting and unique ways to present it, starting things off with a compelling set-up and thrilling capsizing sequence. It’s just a shame, then, that the initially quick pace and excitement is not kept consistent throughout, to the point where it becomes languid and even a tad boring. Comparisons to the aesthetic of a really, really pretty screensaver would not be entirely inaccurate.

At the heart of the film is an inspiring story of survival, courage and faith which allows you to brings as much of yourself to it as much as it tries to draw you in. But the screenplay, by Finding Neverland screenwriter David Magee, frequently makes the film feel stodgy and stilted in nature, especially in the middle section. There’s a difference between being deliberately paced so as to allow the audience to soak in the atmosphere, themes and emotions at hand and just labouring the point. And while there are certainly effective cases of the former it also, disappointingly, falls into the latter trap.

Life of Pi - movie review

It’s debatable whether the film actually needed to be in 3D but there are sequences – for example the glowing whale jumping scene shown in all the trailers – in which it is utilised to greater effect, and more importantly with more purpose, than most 3D movies which are just churned out for the sake of the extra ticket price. 3D aside the film is undoubtedly a thing of visual beauty; the mere sight of a huge tiger on a lifeboat roaring, scrabbling for food and claiming its limited territory is arresting enough but there’s plenty more to marvel over on both a grand and a smaller, more detailed scale. Obviously a great deal of special effects were used to bring the tiger (and others) to life aboard the boat but it’s utterly convincing throughout – an example of where CGI can enhance the story rather than get in the way. It’s this imaginative, sumptuous aesthetic often advanced by effects that truly enthralls and sticks in the mind.

It has a problematic storytelling framework in that the main character is relaying his story to a writer who wants to turn it into a novel. Though this may have worked in the original book, in the case of the adaptation not only does it mean the film has to clunkily move between the present where the story is being told and the past in which the story takes place but it takes away any sense of danger that he won’t survive the ordeal. Of course that could be said about all stories framed in this way but it’s less inherent in the device and more in the story at hand and how that works in tandem with it. Unfortunately it detracts of the otherwise fantastic story rather than giving it the weight it needed. There’s also a kind of reveal at the end which, not to give anything away, allows you to reflect on everything you’ve hitherto seen and heard. It’s more of an idea that works in principal, and perhaps it does in the source material (which I have to admit I haven’t read), but due to the film sort of petering off in the last third it doesn’t have the emotional impact that was clearly intended.

There’s a lot to like about Life of Pi, from its wondrous visuals and moving score to its compelling performances and overall amazingly unbelievable story. I just wish it had been reigned in more to provide a much tighter, faster paced journey when it is so often left to languish. Nevertheless Lee has delivered , no matter how you look at it, a real experience of a movie.

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Life of Pi is released in UK cinemas on Thursday December 20th.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2 Comments

  1. [SPOILERS WITHIN THIS COMMENT] i went out of my way to read the book before seeing this film. The ending in the novel – and what was certainly intended in the film, whether it worked or not – isn’t a “twist” or “reveal”. It’s about what story you believe to be true. He has no proof for either, and it’s 99% the exact same story. The entire thing is a metaphor for religion. So what do you believe: the practical story we can all imagine, or use a little faith to believe in something extraordinary.
    It’s not a twist. Story A may still be true, despite the existence of Story B(in the fictional context of the movie).

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 346

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 370

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10