Review: Lion (TIFF 2016)

Lion (TIFF 2016)
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PLOT: Twenty-five years after being separated from his family, a young man (Dev Patel) raised by loving adoptive parents (Nicole Kidman & David Wenham) in Australia uses Google Earth to find his natural family, who he vaguely remembers living in a remote part of India.

REVIEW: If The Weinstein Company knows anything, it’s how to score Oscars, and their latest contender, LION, is a rock-solid crowd-pleaser that will no doubt appeal to a huge chunk of voters, and possibly rake-in some holiday big-bucks as well. It’s large-scale family entertainment at its very best, telling a story that’s so crazy it’s true, while mercilessly tugging at the heartstrings. I loved every second of it.

Cleanly cut into two halves, while the star-studded second half will no doubt be what the trailers focus on, the first hour of the movie, charting our hero Saroo’s journey through India after accidently getting on a train that takes him 500 miles from home, is the most powerful. Well-directed by ‘Top of the Lake’ co-director Garth Davis, it’s shot like a docu-drama, with a staggeringly good performance by Sunny Pawar as the five-year-old Saroo. Not unlike SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, it shines a harsh light on slum life in India, with Saroo easy prey to human traffickers (one is played by Bollywood superstar Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a creepy cameo) and crooked cops. Luckily he’s smart beyond his years.

After Saroo finds himself in the comforting arms of Nicole Kidman and David Wenham’s saintly-Aussies, the movie becomes somewhat less edgy but just as intriguing. Anchored by a strong performance by Dev Patel as the adult Saroo, who identifies more as an Australian than an Indian, it’s a good coming-of-age tale as he finds himself obsessed by the idea that the mother he barely remembers is out there somewhere, thinking that he’s dead. Rather than play him as a wide-eyed saint, Patel is allowed to be complicated. He has an adoring girlfriend (played by Rooney Mara) but he’s a tough guy to live with thanks to his obsession and temper, with the bane of his existence being his adopted brother, who’s been unable to move past his harsh upbringing in India and is into drugs. Unsympathetic at times, Saroo is atypical for this kind of movie, in that he’s a real guy and Patel terrific in his edgiest role to date.

One can also expect TWC to launch a major campaign for Kidman, who’s warm and wonderful as Saroo’s Australian mother, but in a nice touch this is distinctly not a “white savior” story, with Saroo remaining our complicated focus throughout. As usual for Oscar-fare, LION is beautifully composed, with gorgeous cinematography by ZERO DARK THIRTY’s Grieg Fraser, and running just a hair over two hours it tells an epic story economically.

While some critics felt LION was a little too transparent in its efforts to cover all the Oscar-bait bases, it can’t be denied LION is a strong, moving work that will generate some killer word-of-mouth. It was a late festival treat for me, and I’m definitely not the easiest critic for a movie of this ilk. In the end, the story, craft and acting all won me over and I can’t imagine anyone else not succumbing to what’s actually a wonderful little movie.

Source: JoBlo.com



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