|Posted by Nick Spake on December 23, 2016 at 5:05 PM|
“Lion” is kind of like “Slumdog Millionaire” meets “Finding Dory.” That might sound an odd combination, but it’s the perfect way to describe Garth Davis’ powerful movie. With such a rich, remarkable story, “Lion” has the essence of a modern fable or an animated feature. You could especially see a director like Don Bluth tackling this material, although the human characters would probably be substituted with mice, dinosaurs, or well… lions. Believe it or not, this film is based on a non-fiction novel from Saroo Brierley. Of course even if “Lion” were a pure work of fantasy, it would still be a gripping, moving, and inspiring experience about never giving up.
This fantastic tale begins with young Sunny Pawar as Saroo, a five-year-old Indian boy who gets separated from his older brother at a train station. Falling asleep on a train, he wakes up in another country miles away from his family. Saroo attempts to navigate his way back home, but isn’t entirely sure where he’s from. After a series of misadventures, Saroo is eventually taken in by an adoption agency. He finds a loving home with two Australian parents, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham in wonderful supporting performances. He also gets an adopted brother (Divian Ladwa), who goes on to become black sheep of the family.
Another twenty-five years down the line, Saroo is an educated college student with a caring girlfriend (Rooney Mara). He additionally maintains a meaningful relationship with his adopted parents, always acting as their rock. Although everything seems to be working out for Saroo, part of him feels empty inside nonetheless. He becomes determined to find his birth parents in hopes of getting closure. Even with Google Earth at his disposal, however, the chances of a reunion appear slim.
Dev Patel continues to mature nicely as an actor, taking on the role of adult Saroo. He molds him into a likable, charming young man with great sorrow underneath the surface. As Saroo searches for his roots, he begins to dig himself into a pit of disappear. As all hope dwindles away, he begins to alienate his loved ones. Even when Saroo is at his worst, though, the audience identifies with his pain every step of the way. Kidman is particularly strong as Saroo’s adopted mother, who unconditionally loves her children and wants nothing more than to see them happy. Without an ounce of jealousy or cynicism, she completely supports Saroo’s endeavor to find his long-lost family.
This is a key example of why “Lion” is so uplifting. It’s a sincere film that doesn’t try to shove inspiration down your throat like “Collateral Beauty.” While there are certainly romanticized moments, the film truly earns those scenes through fleshed out writing, effective imagery, and characters that overflow with humanity. Director Garth Davis has primarily work in television, notably the “Top of the Lake” miniseries. “Lion” marks his first feature film and it’s a damn impressive directorial debut. He fully delivers in the emotional department with a film that understands the bonds of family. It may be familiar territory, but “Lion” reminds us why the universal theme of family seems to be at the center of every movie.
Grade: 4.5 Out of 5 Stars