Directed by: Garth Davis
Written by: Luke Davies, adapted from the book “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley
Starring: Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Dev Patel, Rooney Mara
Summary: A young boy is separated from his brother and ends up thousands of miles outside of his impoverished home town in India. After being entered into the foster system, Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple. 20 years later, he seeks out his birthplace and the mother he left behind so many years ago.
I must have a soft spot for little kids with bright, innocent eyes because much like last year’s Room, I wept through most of this movie. It’s not that the story is devastating, it’s just incredibly touching. Despite some pretty apparent flaws in the film, Lion packs an emotional punch and tells a remarkable story.
The first half of the film is spent with young Saroo (Sunny Pawar), who is about five years old. We see him learn how to survive on the street and escape individuals who see him as a commodity, an item to be bought or sold, used for personal gain. Saroo finally finds safety after he is adopted by John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman). This first half of the film is well paced; our characters’ goals and motivations are clear.
However, in the second half of the film when we meet the older Saroo (Dev Patel), now in his 20’s, things become a bit uneven. We’re introduced to Lucy (Rooney Mara), a classmate of Saroo’s in college who encourages him to seek out his birthplace. Rooney Mara does a fine job with this role, but I don’t quite understand why her character was necessary for the story. Her contribution didn’t seem meaningful and could have easily been cut in in an effort to clean up the second act. In reality, it’s possible that Lucy was an important contributing factor to Saroo, but the screenplay did not set up her character in that way.
The highlight of Lion is Nicole Kidman’s performance. She does an incredible job playing Saroo’s adoptive mother. Nicole Kidman doesn’t have much screen time, but when she is, her performance is incredibly powerful. Most of the scenes where I was sniffling into my popcorn, it was when she was on screen. Her adoration for Saroo and his other adopted brother, Mantosh, is so genuine, but she brings more than maternal affection to this role. The complexities that come with adopting children with a troubled past are clear; it physically wears on her. There is a beautiful scene between Saroo and his mother where Sue explains to Saroo why she and his father elected to adopt children, it’s definitely the highlight of her performance. (Translate: This is what they will use for her Oscar reel).
Dev Patel also does a great job as the older Saroo, now struggling to make a life for himself but still eager to know more about the life he left behind. Saroo is haunted by the memory of his brother, Guddu, who was his idol and his protector and he is just as motivated to find him as he is to find his mother. He is literally and figuratively chasing the memory of his brother and the anguish that this brings him is genuine. The ending scenes of this movie hinged on Dev Patel’s performance and I think he pulls it off nicely.
Other highlights include the score and cinematography. Dustin O’Halloran did a great job writing the music for Lion, I still listen to his score for Like Crazy on repeat and what he has written for Lion has similar touches. The cinematography was also very well done, Greig Fraser highlighted the beauty of India, even in its darkest corners, and captured this from young Saroo’s perspective very nicely.
Final Verdict: B
Lion is not the best film of the year, but it’s worth seeing. The story, while not as well-crafted as it could have been, is incredible and the actors shine in bringing it to life.
Best Supporting Actor, Dev Patel
Best Supporting Actress, Nicole Kidman
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Original Score
I was happy to see this nominated for Original Score and Cinematography. Those were two of the highlights of this film and they deserve the nomination. My only strong objection is that this should not be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. The screenplay was one of its weakest points. Lion isn’t a solid win in any of these categories, but its nominations seem deserving.