By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is of another Oscar-nominated contender to be the weepiest film of the year; in a good way, I guess.
Garth Davis (in his first feature film directing role) brings us Lion with the Hollywood cast of Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman.
Following Dev’s Bafta win and Academy Award nomination, Lion must be a triumph, right?
Lion is an emotional biographical drama about Saroo Brierley, who was lost on the streets of Calcutta to his family in India at age 5 after ending up on a train bound more than 1,000 kilometres away from his hometown. Based on Brierley's memoir A Long Way Home, the movie chronicles how Saroo (Dev Patel) used Google Earth to track down his birth family after a 25-year separation.
First things first, be prepared to cry – a lot. Lion will bring down those barriers, regardless of how ‘hard’ you are, largely because of little Sunny Pawar. Both Pawar (young Saroo) and Patel have incredibly difficult scenes that contribute to this wonderful tearjerker. I can’t remember the last time I saw such a commanding performance from such a young actor. Sunny is extremely talented and I fully understand why Dev chose to share his Bafta win with the little guy.
To be fair, to overlook Dev would be sacrilege. He has blossomed into a gifted young actor who demands respect with his onscreen presence. Whenever he pops up on screen, in the Phoenix theatre I quietly wept in, you could hear a pin drop. Patel’s performance gives the impression that the role and story meant a great deal to him. His portrayal is extremely passionate and measured from start to finish and it’s difficult to argue with his Bafta win.
Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara are also great supports. Even though they both have limited sequences, they seem to steal the camera for themselves. This could be down to Garth’s filmmaking as he made sure the frame would stay to tight to each individual. Davis definitely did not want to give the viewer any breathing space. It certainly worked as I was hooked for the entirety.
The beginning of Lion, or the first 30 minutes at least, is compelling. Little Sunny helms the film expertly as we follow his crazy journey around the mean streets of Calcutta. It’s especially damming to see how a few people could mean harm to such young, innocent children. It’s extremely emotional but there's a period in the middle of the second act when all Saroo (Dev Patel version) seems to do is hang out in front of his computer, searching countless train stations within a 1,000-mile radius of Calcutta. This is an important part of the film, but tediously slow.
We could have explored more of his social life, as we only get a glimpse of him and his friends half way through the movie at a party. We never really get to see his full emotional turmoil when he is adult, we are only given a sneak preview of just how bad it must have been for 25 years when he has a mini-meltdown with his girlfriend.
Eventually though, the narrative picks up again as he believes he has located his birth mother. When this occurs, Garth Davis seems to pluck some experience or techniques from somewhere as the climax is captivating. We have the side-plot of will he find his birth mother and family, what will his adoptive mother think and how will his relationship with Mara end? The confidence in the delivery of the final sequences is admirable by Davis. The film is tied up perfectly, even using real-life footage of the families involved. Lion is assured, enthralling and forceful. A must-see.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4.5 Stars
Lion screened at the Phoenix Leicester last week – certificate PG