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Lion is a very worthy nominee for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. Moving and engaging, Lion is the type of movie that should be seen by more people. It is very well acted, is affecting and has a solid and important message as well.
Lion tells the story of Saroo, a five-year-old Indian boy who, in the mid 1980s, is accidentally locked in a train car that takes him on a two-day journey to Calcutta where he is lost with no ability to speak the language and no way to find his way home. Eventually adopted by an Austrailian family, Saroo lives a life of which he literally could never have dreamed. In his mid-twenties, the adult Saroo uses the new Google Earth technology to begin to search for the home and family he left behind.
Lion begins with almost no dialogue at all and the bold choice works very well to give the audience a sense of the isolation that Saroo felt during his plight in Calcutta. The first 50 minutes of the movie focuses on the incredible work by Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo. Pawar is a natural and is magnetic in every scene. His shocking vulnerability is juxtaposed by the great wisdom behind his big black eyes. The young actor carries the film in its early stages before he hands Saroo off to Academy Award nominated Dev Patel.
Patel is a tremendous actor and fills the adult Saroo with a compelling mixture of confidence and confusion. He shines in the movie and, as much as we carried for Pawar as Saroo, we care equally for Patel in the role. It is truly a shame they both were not nominated. Both deserve recognition.
Saroo’s search becomes a solitary one as the movie progresses. Afraid that his adoptive parents – especially his mother played by a brilliant (and Academy Award nominated) Nicole Kidman – will see his quest to find his home as a rejection, Saroo withdraws from his family and his girlfriend (a very good Rooney Mara). Scene-after-scene of searching Google Earth and putting pins in maps could become trite in the hands of a lesser actor, but Patel keeps the audience engaged in the journey.
The conclusion of the movie is compelling and full of emotion. It is also satisfying and uplifting. While Lion has been hailed by some as the “feel good movie of the year” it is so much more than that. It is a complex sociological study that deals with adoption, identity and loss in a very real and very affecting manner.
The only area in which I thought Lion could have done was addressing in a more direct manner some of the consequences of what happens to children like Saroo. The end titles tell the audience that over 80,000 children are lost in India each year and there are darker sides to the lost children problem that Lion only alludes to and chooses not to develop as deeply as it might have. That is a fine choice for the movie as to do so would have dimmed the “feel good” vibe the filmmakers captured so well. It does feel a bit like a lost opportunity, however.
Overall, Lion is a wonderful film, small, simple and powerful. Director Garth Davis is clearly laboring from love with the subject and it shows. Benefiting from the Oscar nominated performances of Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, a wonderful score by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran and a powerful true story, Lion is well worth the time and will stay with an audience far after the end credits.
LION receives FOUR AND A HALF GOOGLE EARTH SEARCHES out of a possible FIVE.