Lion (Keith’s Guest Review)

Five year old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty five years later (now Dev Patel), armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.

For those who don’t know, the film is based on a true story. The challenge with those types of films is that since we already know how the story goes (I didn’t so I’m speaking in general), the story has to be presented in a compelling way to keep us interested.

The film tells Saroo’s story in two parts, the first being the circumstances leading up to his adoption by an Australian family named Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham) and his quest to track his family 25 years later. The film starts by following a young Saroo (who is the absolute cutest thing you’ll see this year) and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). They, and their mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) and younger sister Shekila (Khushi Salanki/Rohini Kargaiya), were very close and would do everything together, or at least Saroo would try. He did not let his small stature get in the way and wanted to be treated just the same as everyone else. This was most evident when he pressured Guddu into letting him join along where they would later end up getting separated.

From that point, the film follows a lost, young Saroo who is now alone and has no idea where he is. His small stature and pure innocence stands out when contrasted with the world around him. Little did he know, he was thousands of miles away from his home and as he wandered around, we got to witness the darker side of India. We saw examples of poverty, homeless children, and human trafficking to name a few. This was even more effective because of Saroo’s size and innocence. Throughout his ordeal, Saroo was very compelling to watch as he was able to portray so much while doing so little, solely relying on facial expressions to dictate the mood of a scene. His desperation to get back to his family felt very real and genuine and it was easy to get emotional with him.

His search led him to an orphanage which then led to his adoption by the Brierleys. This was the start of a different film within the film as the tone became much different than before. Moving from India to a Australia was an obvious culture change for him but the Brierleys were both there for him, helping him get acquainted and showing him a lot of love. They later brought in a brother from India named Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav/Divian Ladwa). Mantosh did not get acquainted as well, becoming a problem for the Brierleys. We did not get to see much of this as the film flashes forward to Saroo as an adult and almost completely forgets Mantosh.

Saroo’s life seems pretty comfortable. He is close to his adoptive parents, he is going to school, and he has a girlfriend named Lucy (Rooney Mara). Ever since leaving the orphanage 25 years ago, he hasn’t really thought about his past life but his memories suddenly begin to come back and he starts to miss his family. He believed they had unfinished business after their separation. One day, a friend suggested he use Google Earth to try and find his home. He mostly kept his quest to himself which alienated him from Lucy and his family.

Despite the insurmountable odds, Saroo was determined to find his family. This incarnation of Saroo was also compelling to watch. The emotion involved in his quest and thus his identity crisis was relatable. He barely remembered anything at that point, but over the course of his investigation, his memories started to come back, leading to an inevitable result. Without giving anything away, this result was both emotional and satisfying.

This was a beautiful journey, with great cinematography that captured both India and Australia. Whether it was India or Australia, it featured lush colors and wide shots of either countryside while also being more immersive in intimate moments, like during young Saroo’s frantic quest to get back home and during more emotional scenes. The mostly piano score helped to convey emotions but occasionally overpowered certain scenes. Lucy served little purpose in the film, other than being the stereotypical supporting character and her relationship with Saroo felt forced.

The acting was the best part of the film with Patel and Kidman being the standouts and have rightfully earned the nominations they’ve received. Patel was excellent as the adult Saroo, conveying the depth of his character and his identity crisis and feeling like he had to choose between Australia and India. His emotion was palpable as he still cared for both. In limited screen time, Kidman was excellent as well as Sue Brierley. She cared deeply for both Saroo and Mantosh even as her family was seemingly falling apart around her. Her emotion and vulnerability displayed here was great to watch as she tried to hold things together. Pawel should get credit for carrying the first half of the film and setting the emotional tone while being incredibly cute in the process. Wenham and Mara were good too but Mara had no chemistry with Patel.

Overall, this was a beautiful and emotional film with a compelling story, elevated by the performances of Patel and Kidman.

Score: 9/10

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