Darren Aronofsky's impressive debut follows Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), a brilliant number theorist whose stock market calculations cause his makeshift computer to spit out a seemingly random 216-digit number before it crashes; this number prompts a downward spiral of obsession and madness as Max desperately searches for its meaning -- and becomes the target of both a shady Wall Street firm who want to use it to get rich and a group of Hasidic Jews who believe it represents the unspeakable name of God. Shot for about $60,000 on black-and-white reversal stock, Pi is itself the formula for how to make a smart DIY science fiction thriller that will get the attention of Sundance and kickstart a directing career that will later involve other tales of flawed protagonists and their obsessive pursuits such as Requiem For a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler and Black Swan. . . though, like the mathematical constant it's named after, it's a formula that's not so easy to crack. An innovative and sometimes genuinely unsettling tech-geek fable, though it falls into the same trap as the films that would follow it -- ultimately, Aronofsky is maybe just a bit too "smart" for his own good, and while that makes his work fascinating, it also makes it more than a little alienating.
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