This is a compelling, metaphysical adventure about an Indian teenager stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a man-eating Bengal Tiger. Although the first half-hour setting up Pi Patel’s upbringing in Pondicherry, India as the son of a zookeeper is slow enough to put you to sleep, it picks up when the family decides to move their zoo to Canada and boards a Japanese freighter.
Shot in marvelous 3-D, which is generally sublimated to the beauty of the cinematography, the sinking of the freighter is as good as, if not better than, the depiction of the sinking of the Titanic a decade ago.
Narrated by an older Pi (Irfan Khan) who is being interviewed by a writer (Rafe Spall), the bulk of the film is about the fight for survival by 17-year-old Pi (Suraj Sharma), who finds himself adrift on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a Bengal Tiger as his companion. In the first half hour setup, Pi was caught by his father trying to feed the tiger by hand. His father grabbed him, remonstrating that, “The tiger is not your friend. When you look in its eyes, what you see is yourself reflected back.”
It turns out that the story is one long allegory (script by David Magee, based on the 2001 novel by Yann Martel that has sold over 7 million copies). Beautifully directed by Ang Lee, the film does not let one rest as Pi battles not only the sea but the tiger, named Richard Parker. Richard Parker should be up for an Oscar® but, unbelievable as it may seem, the tiger is a product of computer-graphics (CG) technology, overseen by visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). It’s so well done that it’s almost impossible to believe that the vicious tiger roaming around the lifeboat is just an advanced version of Donald Duck.
Similarly, the massive Pacific Ocean in which Richard Parker and Pi found themselves trapped was recreated in Taichung, Taiwan, on the site of a former airport, in a tank that measured 70 meters long, 30 meters wide, and 4 meters deep, with a capacity of 1.7 million gallons, that allowed the filmmakers to generate a range of water textures. For the sinking of the ship and the massive storm sequence, the tank’s water was replaced by CG water!
I mention these technical details because, interesting as the story and the movie are, the way the movie was made is at least as interesting, and I came out of the film with as many questions about them as I had about the meaning of the film, with one of the better twist endings you’ll encounter.
Earlier this year I reluctantly went to see a French film entitled The Intouchables. About a blind man who forms a touching, nonsexual relationship with his male caretaker, it sounded dark and depressing. It was anything but. One of the best pictures of the year it was comedic and uplifting and based on fact.
There is nothing comedic or uplifting about Rust and Bone. Worse, this film falls prey to the same sickness that troubles other films where a director directs his own script. Jacques Audiard directs a script he cowrote with Thomas Bidegain from a short story collection by Craig Davidson. He made it far too long. This flunked the watch test dismally. At one point my companion asked me how much longer there was to go. When I said 40 minutes, she groaned.
Marion Cotillard loses both legs in an accident and befriends Matthias Schoenaerts, a vulgar, insensitive bohemian working as a security agent. The story is basically about how a beautiful woman who loses her legs in the prime of life deals with it and the relationship between Cotillard and Schoenaerts.
Schoenaerts is fresh off his brilliant performance in Bullhead (2012) where he played a tough gangster. He actually gained weight for this because he didn’t want to appear with a conventional hero’s ripped physique because his character here is one who is strong, but not trained. His character had boxed for years and then dropped out and gained weight.
Schoenaerts tries to make some money by entering unsupervised bareknuckle fights. This results in an overabundance of violent, bloody scenes that can cause one to want to avert his or her eyes.
What might make the film worth seeing, however, apart from the fine acting by Cotillard and Schoenaerts is the wonderful CGI that makes it look as if Cotillard actually had her legs cut off for the movie. It is extraordinarily realistic.
The film contains several scenes of both male and female nudity. Although the acting is superb, it is far too long and without one iota of humor. A movie this heavy needs some humor to lighten the load and move it along. In French.