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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Lion Review


Lion Review

Some of the best films this Oscar season have been melodramatic, and Lion is no exception.  Lion is Director Garth Davis's first feature film, but the guess here is that his career trajectory is about to take a sharp rise.  His realization of Saroo Brierley's autobiographical "A Long Way Home"--adapted for the screen by Luke Davies--vaulted from sleeper to must see in a matter of weeks and arrives as one of the top films of the year, raising hopes for the Weinstein brothers that they might again find themselves on the Academy Awards dais on February 26.

In a poor village in the Indian hinterlands, five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and older brother Guddu find menial jobs to help their mother, Kamla (Priyanka Bose) support their family.  One day, after much cajoling, Guddu agrees to take Saroo to find work.  They hop a train, and at one of the stops, they become separated.  The tired child sneaks aboard another train to nap, and when he awakes, the train is on the move to Calcutta, where he debarks, a waif alone amid uncaring, even hostile, throngs.  He seeks help, but his strange dialect and childish mispronunciations render him a hopelessly lost street child who eventually ends up in an orphanage.  It is there, when Saroo's future seems bleakest, that he hits on his first stroke of luck: a loving Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) want to adopt him.

Cut to adult Saroo (Dev Patel), a driven, but good-hearted college student studying hotel management who woos and wins a classmate, Lucy (Rooney Mara).  At a party one night, Saroo relates his history, and another Indian student puts a bug in his ear about using Google Earth to find his village.  The suggestion that he might find his birth family germinates into an obsession to the young man caught between worlds, where his original identity has been torn away.  It frightens his family and alienates Lucy.  They are his rock and compass, and they successfully bring Saroo to earth without the use of Google, and they get to share in his quest for closure.

As the credits roll, we note the physical likenesses the actors bear to the people upon whom the films is based.  Luckily, casting the likes of Kidman, Mara, Wenham, and Bose brings far more than resemblance; they are uniformly excellent--genuine and sympathetic.  Saroo's story in India is innately cinematic, and the family bonding and courting scenes in Australia are touching. Conducting Google research, however, is not compelling, so Davis must use his estimable skills to flesh out that part of the film.  The music swells and Patel teeters on the edge of madness--and annoyance--as the melodrama kicks in. It is in these minutes we become aware that the story is stretched a bit to cover the length of a feature film, and perhaps that is why the ending reaches a level of satisfaction, but not the tearful catharsis for which it aims.  But that is forgiven in the story of little Saroo and the performances of Pawar and Patel.  Garth Davis has a background in cinematography, and his collaboration with Director of Photography Greig Fraser is at times nightmarish, at times dreamlike, always immersive, and maybe the best shot Lion has at winning an Oscar.

Sidenotes on Sunny Pawar: He does not speak English, so he had to learn his lines phonetically.  Given that, the fact that he so wonderfully acts out his role is remarkable.  Also, on current events note, Sunny originally was denied a visa to attend Lion's premiere.  The Weinsteins had to appeal to Homeland Security to get Sunny through.  Apparently, eight-year-old Indian children present a threat of which I was unaware.

8 out of 10

Guy S. Malone, Researcher

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