STARRING: DEV PATEL; ROONEY MARA; NICOLE KIDMAN; SUNNY PAWAR
DIRECTED BY: GARTH DAVIS
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
If Lion had ended half-way through, I would be praising it as one of the best movies of 2016. As a whole, it is a fairly moving film, only for the second half to undo any emotion felt at the beginning. It is the true story about a boy named Saroo Brierley (Sunny Pawar) who in 1986 became lost in the city of Calcutta, India after accidentally falling asleep on a train that took him thousands of miles away from his family, forcing him into a foster home, before being adopted by Australian parents. It is an astonishing story, about where life can take us, only to feel lacking in the dramatic pizazz the story has. Lion is a fascinating story, reduced down to a brisk walk to discovery.
Young Saroo has the youthful energy of a precocious puppy, running over hills and through the vast lands of India. He is eager to help his mother, who works in the coal fields, sorting and picking rocks for what little pay can allow her family a meal. Without a father to help support, the extra help comes from older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). Saroo begs to help his brother find work and when he waits at the train station till he comes back, he falls asleep on an abandoned train that begins to move. By the time his trapped ride ends, he is thousands of miles away from his home, a lost child in a country overflowing with people. Fear settles in, as Saroo shouts the name of his brother, swirling around in his young life that has just been changed forever.
It's at this time in Lion where the tears are pouring from my eyes because of this emotional journey. A lot of credit deserves to be given to cinematographer Greig Fraser, who films Saroo in a way that makes him look like an ant in a great big world, while also keeping the camera at his eye level, increasing our fear for the lost child. The star of it all is Pawar, whose performance should receive more praise than Jacob Tremblay's efforts in last years Room. He takes on the entire first half of the film and leads us on a wave of emotions. He runs from possible kidnappers on the street, finds ways to feed himself, eventually ending up at an orphanage where he is adopted by Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham) to Australia.
We jump 20 years ahead, where Saroo has been living his life down under, at this point played by Dev Patel, where he enjoys to surf, and is seeking a career in the hotel service industry. What he has never known is what happened to his birth mother, often viewing it as a lost cause, that he would never remember. It is here in the middle section of Lion that feels sluggish. Saroo goes away to study and meets his girlfriend Lucy (a non-existent Rooney Mara), but also begins to recall his journey, and with the help of Google Earth, he begins to search for his past. This is director Garth Davis' first feature film, which seems he may have thought worked relying on the strength of his cast. He almost succeeds, as Kidman delivers a strong, but limited performance, as the mother who is in conflict of Saroo's heartbreak, and his other adopted brother Mantosh, who struggles with a mental disability. She loves unconditionally, hoping Saroo finds the answers he is looking for, in what is a small needle in a great big hay stack.
It is undeniable that Lion succeeds most early on when we follow the young Pawar. He is full of life and draws out the joy and fear for children in the world. Although the second half is a large dip, there is also something to be said about the lack of dramatics. There is very little of the in between. We get a look at the moments when Saroo looks out a window trying to remember where he lived, but there is a lack of chances to know how his loss has truly effected him.
Lion is a courageous story and I would not fault anyone for finding great joy for this movie experience. We are lead on Saroo's path when he loses his family and then follow him on the journey to discovery. It's a crowd pleasing tale, I just know that this is a movie that could be great, but something here is still missing.
2 ½ Stars
Written by: Leo Brady