A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
Director: Garth Davis
Starring: Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose
Rated: PG-13 (thematic material and some sensuality)
By Matt Greene
Our society is flooded with think-pieces about the migration of people from one country to another. Still, we rarely get a thorough glimpse of what a person who makes this trek goes through, losing connection to their blood and culture. Lion, a purely human film that quietly draws you into the true-story of a lost Indian boy adopted by an Australian couple (Kidman, Wenham), provides us with a harrowing tale of discovery & rediscovery. A gentle epic about the mistakes we make in family & love, and the second-chances we long for.
In the first half, we’re introduced to 5-year-old Saroo, a financially-impoverished but family-rich boy lost thousands of miles away from his home. The world is never so overwhelming as through the eyes of a lost child; that perspective is our tour guide here. We are rarely given information outside of his naïve ignorance, allowing mystery and fear to bloom up in unexpected places. Even his eventual life-saving adoption by a kind Australian couple is blanketed in confusing culture shock (expensive houses, nice transportation). Pawar is perfectly casted, his sweet voice and heavy eyes perfectly capturing the complexity with which we try and reconcile his new privileges with his stunned sadness.
In the second half, Saroo (Patel) is 25-years-older & more accustomed to his Western life, though still longing for a connection to his past. Some of the complexity fades here: the dialogue is more awkward, the side-characters are less-natural, and the narrative is clumsily pushed along. Still, the performances are strong, the score is gorgeous, and the story is enveloping. Lion is a gracious tearjerker that makes you wanna go out, live life and cling tight to the ones you love.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
By Cole Schneider
Of all the Best Picture nominees from the Academy this year, “Lion” was the most surprising. With hindsight, however; it does make some sense. “Lion” follows a 5 year old Indian boy who gets lost in Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. Eventually he’s adopted by a couple in Australia, grows into adulthood and then works against all odds to find the family and the ataraxia he was separated from two-and-a-half decades earlier. The remarkable true story is certainly the kind of material the Oscars are predisposed to liking. It’s also produced by Academy favorites, The Weinstein Company, and has familiar Oscar faces in its supporting cast (Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara).
The most important factor in its Oscar legitimacy, though, is that “Lion” doesn’t just sit on its “remarkable true story” tag. Although the cinematography and editing are each a bit uneven, there is an ambition in the filmmaking, which most of these stories lack. It isn’t a banal, warmly lit Chicken Soup for the Soul retelling. It’s instead an artfully crafted narrative that happens to be uplifting.
Its first half is especially terrific. As we follow the young Saroo from his place in a loving family into the lonely reality of a child alienated in a large city speaking a different language and then finally into an endlessly complex relationship with his new Australian parents, we are hooked by the child actor’s powerful stillness, the cinematic flair, and the sheer drama of the narrative. The second half is less successful, but is still driven by a performance (Dev Patel as adult Saroo) and a nuanced bantam quality atypical of these stories.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars