Movie Review: Lion

Director:Garth Davis

Grade: 5 out of 5

Cast: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Rooney Mara

January is always an interesting month for movies. The large tent poles, animated features, and over the top ‘holiday’ movies made for the holiday season that do nothing but produce the worst trailers you’ve ever seen, every time, are past. Now the movies that have gotten smaller releases for awards consideration get to spread to audiences who can appreciate them but may not live in New York City or Los Angeles.

Lion is the film adaptation of Saroo Brierley’s autobiographical memoir A Long Way Home. Screenwriter Luke Davies doesn’t miss an emotional beat in the transition from page to screen. Garth Davis, a relative newcomer to directing feature films captures the essence of what Saroo Brierley’s astonishing and sorrowful life was.

At the age of five Saroo (First time actor Sunny Pawar) and his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) travel from their small town to Calcutta in search of work to help their single mother and young sister. Saroo is young and small but determined to help. His family has nothing. The film opens on a desperate coal theft from a moving train that puts both brothers in peril over and over. The two shake off the danger and their bond keeps them moving. The risk of injury and death awards them nothing but a meager portion of milk.

In Calcutta Saroo loses his brother. Unfortunate circumstances send the young boy on a journey that even sitting in a warm theater, reclining in a comfortable chair, surrounded by people leaves you feeling cold, alone, and desperate. How any person, let alone a child, could cope with these ordeals is astonishing in itself.

The story makes a few time jumps before landing on a grown Saroo (Dev Patel). Saroo has been adopted by a loving Australian couple Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham). He meets a charming girl, Lucy (played by an under utilized Rooney Mara), and lands a job. The problem his Saroo has never gotten over his harrowing past. The thought of his Mother, Sister, and Brother in India looking for him is too much for the pained man to take. He starts a long and obsessive search to find them.

Dev Patel is probably best known to American audiences from his turn as Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire. That movie even has some of the same traits, on paper. Lion is nothing like the everything happens for a reason with the fun bollywood ending fairy tale. Much of Lion is uncomfortable, even difficult for the characters. That means a gripping tale for the audience.

The strength of the script and the talent of the new director work in perfect harmony to tell a story so visually strong the dialogue could almost be cut from it. The images, tones, lighting, and framing is so on point the deliberate nature of every scene disappears into seamless perfection.

The actors do such a good job broadcasting their characters the table readings leading up to filming must have been equally as emotional of an experience. Dev Patel said this is one of the strongest scripts he’s ever read. The way the story and movie, sit with you, there is no doubt that is completely true.

I went into Lion not knowing much about it. I read the synopsis but never even saw a trailer. After seeing something so powerful and moving I want to do my part to be sure more moviegoers give this movie the attention it deserves.

Lion: 5/5

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