Lion

 photo lion_zpsymamcksn.jpg photo starrating-4stars.jpgLion wrecked me. More specifically, it captivated my feelings by extracting genuine emotion. Although he’s directed some TV (Top of the Lake on the Sundance Channel in the U.S.), Lion is the first feature film from Australian director Garth Davis. His impressive supervision guides this remarkably well-composed debut. It helps that he’s working from a masterful screenplay. The heartfelt adaptation penned by screenwriter Luke Davies is based on the autobiographical book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley (with Larry Buttrose). So yeah it’s a true story. That adds to its grandeur. But this adventure about family and identity would be a powerful saga regardless. The account is divided into two distinct halves. Both need to exist to properly tell what happened, but one is a bit more affecting than the other.

The tale concerns Saroo, a 5 yeard old Indian boy who is separated from his sibling. One night, his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) goes out to look for work and Sarro begs to come with. He agrees to take him, but Saroo becomes too tired to walk. Guddu tells him to rest on a bench at the train station platform and he’ll come back for him. Hours pass and when he awakes, Guddu is nowhere to be found. Thinking his brother is on a train stopped nearby, he climbs aboard. After awhile, he falls asleep and the train takes off. He is transported nearly a thousand miles away from his home. When it finally stops, he is in an unknown world. He can’t read. He doesn’t know the name of his hometown. He can’t even speak the local Bengali dialect, only Hindi.

In the more absorbing first half, the narrative perfectly captures the panic of being lost in a strange place. India’s homeless children roam the streets in groups. Their instant camaraderie is touching but a circumstance that is borne out necessity. The many dangers these homeless children face is highlighted, a child kidnapping ring for one. It’s an unsettling portrayal of a real problem. Young Saroo Brierley is played here by actor Sunny Pawar and he’s a natural. I cannot fathom how scary it was for Saroo to endure such a terrifying odyssey away from home and family, but Pawar’s scrappy performance perfectly captures his struggle. He seizes your attention as the main protagonist in the first half.

The second half is where all the famous thespians show up. Yet interestingly it’s less effective. Of note is Dev Patel. He shows up to play the adult version Saroo, now living in Austrailia. Patel is an actor transformed. His obsequious hotelier in the Marigold Hotel films was a cloying stereotype. Lion sees the long haired bearded performer reborn as a more rugged looking leading man. His swarthy good looks paired with a more somber demeanor. He hides a longing for the mother and brother he lost years ago with his head buried in academic studies. Patel is supported by a couple of well-known stars: Rooney Mara as his girlfriend/fellow student and Nicole Kidman with David Wenham as an adoptive couple. I’m purposefully sidestepping the details of how Saroo got to this point because I think the movie is more compelling the less you know. Needless to say, details about his former life remain in his mind. He begins to research whatever became of his family. Those scenes dramatically unfold in a section that somewhat plays out like an advertisement for Google Earth.

There was a time when a picture like Lion would have easily won Best Picture. Beautifully shot and lovingly told, this is a grand epic that spans continents and decades. Changing tastes have maligned these kinds of dramas with derisive adjectives like sentimental, melodramatic or, heaven forbid, old fashioned. The production is none of those things. What it represents, is one man’s exquisitely composed reminiscence of his life on this earth, a journey that takes him from India to Australia. The narrative builds to a conclusion that had me weeping at the end in an uncontrollable catharsis. It highlights a lot of concepts with sensitivity: the importance of family, the considerations of adoption, one’s own identity, the wonders of the internet and love. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.

10-25-16

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22 Responses to “Lion”

  1. I can’t wait to see it. I wish it were offered in my area. Great to hear you approved of it; you have excellent taste.

    • Thank you. It’s not playing everywhere, but the Oscar nominations on January 24, might change that. It’s in about 600 theaters across the U.S. right now. You might have to drive like 40 miles to see it, but it’s worth it!

  2. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I loved this movie so much. I love your last paragraph sticking up for old fashioned storytelling. This movie had me in tears and engrossed throughout. I loved the way it handled an adoption message and I loved all the casting. That little boy was so amazing. One of my favs of year

  3. Nice review! I had heard of this movie and seen the posters but I wasn’t sure what it was about. It sounds like a bit of a tearjerker. I have been skeptical of Dev Patel after seeing his slapsticky, downright offensive portrayal of an obsessive-compulsive sufferer in “The Road Within,” but I guess he might be a better actor than I give him credit for. Maybe it was just the way that character was written. I’ll have to check this movie out; I like good, emotional dramas.

    • I had to look up The Road Within. Apparently, it was released back in April of 2015. I had never even heard of it. I’m intrigued even although your review is not positive.

  4. Amen to that. That ending knocked my socks off.

    Dev Patel was really good in this, and in fact I thought the thesps who showed up in the second half all were solid. But you’re totally right. I think it’s the naivety of the kid that sold the first half more to me. There’s something so gut-wrenching looking at the kid’s situation, and realizing how innocent he is in all of it. What an incredible story.

  5. Not seen the film yet, but I look forward t it after reading your review.

    Patel was obsequious in the first film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. In the sequel called The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – he was merely obnoxious, IMHO, and the film suffered for it.

    • Dev made another film last year called The Man Who Knew Infinity about real-life mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. It wasn’t anywhere near as wonderful as Lion, but it had its moments.

  6. Didn’t expect to be drawn in as much as I thought I would be. The first half and the final 10-15 minutes are great stuff.

    I kind of felt the editing was a tad weak in spots, one moment, I’m seeing older Saroo (Dev Patel) in college class exchanging flirtatious looks at Rooney Mara’s character, and then the next moment the movie puts hem as a couple walking home and dancing together and whatnot. A little time elapsed and I maybe would have bought their relationship more.

    Still, this movie was pretty moving.

  7. Ching Tan Says:

    Mark, I agree with you that it was a good film that also had me weeping. The first half was indeed the stronger because I had some issues with the second half, mainly the with the character of Lucy. It was a character with no purpose to the plot line other than a physical reminder of the affluent, western, aussie first world cultural differences to those of 3rd world India. The build up of their first meeting to full fledged relationship was weak because the director was in a rush to forward the main story line of adult Saroo’s sensory reaction to the red fried donuts which inevitably prompts him to search for his true origins and birth family. Therefore, I felt the audience was expected to assume the depth of their feelings for each other in the more intimate / sensual scenes.

    This movie, shown in two parts, was certainly very effective in creating a very emotionally evocative response and connection with the young Saroo, and then, by extension to the adult Saroo. The more rugged Patel’s styling of longer curly hair and beard, ahem, certainly evoked a visceral physical reaction from this female viewer. He’s growing older in a Patrick Demsey kinda way.

    Would I have considered this movie for Best Foreign Film….nah. While it was a feel good film and deserves all of the attention it and related social causes are getting, the weaker second half was a rush to the predictable end underscores it’s chances in award season.

    • Agreed. Saroo’s girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara) had “no purpose”. I wasn’t enamored with her character. However, I could disregard her presence where it didn’t hurt my enjoyment.

      Lion is a considered a production from Australia, the United States, and the UK. Additionally, the 2nd half is in English. Therefore I don’t believe it could even qualify as a foreign film. However, it could qualify as a contender for Best Picture…

  8. Sunny Pawar and Dev were great! Very emotional movie. I loved it. Nicole Kidman was also very good. All the build up of emotions come to a satisfying end. I’m sure when I see it again, it will effect me even more. 4 1/2 stars

    • 6 Oscar nominations is impressive, although Lion is an underdog for every category in which it’s nominated. That’s what happens in such a competitive year (La La Land, Moonlight).

  9. I was very excited to see this but I was bored bored bored. The beginning was excellent & the ending sweet but the middle was repetitive, wallowing & with out substance.. Simply put (IMHO) there wasn’t enough story for a full length movie. Love your reviews & love that we don’t always have the same opinion. Now I need to see Split to see if its as bad as you suggest!

    • That’s a reaction I’ve not heard to this film. I was kind of blown away by it.

      Ha ha. I see you’ve read my Split review. It was on the complete opposite end of the enjoyment scale for me.

  10. Lion wrecked me too. Only for me, it was the beginning and the end of the movie that did it. The middle, not so much. I agree with you being a true story adds to the the film’s experience, but that the narrative would still be powerful if even if it wasn’t. The first half is heartbreaking. You’re right that it captures the panic of being lost. I think it also shows how sometimes small mistakes can have dire consequences. Like you, I found the second half less effective, especially for its excessive emphasis on Google Earth and for filling in a lack of story with artsy flashbacks and imagery. For me seeing his process of searching would be more interesting if it exposed his tactics, or even made some up. I could have also been happy if it explored the complex relationship with his mother and step brother. The final reunion Saroo has with his family is so damn powerful though. It makes the whole trip worth it.

    • I’m shocked this film didn’t do better at the box office. It did $46.6M (against a budget of $12M). However, I expected it would do more than $100M. It seems like an audience-pleasing film in the best sense of the word.

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