But Pi is far from Lee’s finest film, especially considering his other masterpieces like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain. The transformation of Yann Martel’s young-adult novel into a full-length feature is impressive, but it is disheartening that a movie centered on the power of storytelling can contain such a thin plot.
The film is framed as follows: in present day Canada, Pi, the protagonist, relates a story from his childhood to a curious reporter. Before beginning, Pi confidently explains that this story will make the reporter (and the viewer) believe in God. The tale is extraordinary—in scene after scene, we are visually bedazzled (all the more so in 3D) by the nearly impossible happenings and obstacles that Pi faces after a shipwreck leaves him stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
But Pi does not keep his promise. I left the theater just as agnostic as when I entered. The story was fantastic, but it wasn’t revolutionary, and the middle section, throughout which Pi is the only human on screen for a half-hour, especially lacked substance. I am told, however, that this is true of the novel as well, which is perhaps why some critics have been pleasantly surprised by Lee’s successful adaptation of what many called an unfilmable book. Lee may have been up against a challenge, but the film suffers a real downfall from the acting, which is average and even melodramatic at certain points, worthy of eye-rolls and giggles at some of the more serious and sincere parts.
If nothing else, Life of Pi is visually breathtaking—reason alone to go see it. If you’re looking for more than entertainment, though—something memorable—it is unlikely you’ll find it here.