Rachel LaBonte ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
A child’s worst nightmare is being separated from their family. Sometimes this comes to life in a supermarket or an amusement park. But for Saroo Brierly, it came to life on a train that took him thousands of kilometers away from his home when he was just four years old. What follows is an unforgettable tale of one man’s journey to find his home, beautifully brought to the big screen in Garth Davis’ possible Oscar contender Lion.
Based on a true story, Lion begins with young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) accompanying his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) to the local train station so Guddu can find work. Guddu leaves Saroo at the station and tells him not to leave until he returns. But when Saroo wakes up from a nap hours later he finds himself alone and ends up wandering onto a train that takes him across his home country of India to Calcutta, where he does not speak the language and has no idea how to get home.
After a few close calls with some very dangerous people, Saroo finds himself in an orphanage where he is eventually adopted by John (David Wenham) and Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman), a couple from Austraila. He grows up under their care, and, over the years, forgets his Indian heritage. It is not until he is at a dinner party with colleagues that his past starts to come back to him, the memories having been brought back by a piece of Indian food he once asked Guddu to buy for him. Now consumed by the idea of finding his family, Saroo—played as an adult by Dev Patel—uses modern technology to try and trace his way back home.
Patel is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination here, doing a fantastic job of portraying Saroo who is caught between two worlds. At first, he initially resists his Indian heritage—when someone asks him where in India he is from, he says he’s adopted and not really Indian—but as more memories of his mother and brother surface, he finds himself drawn to it. As his search grows more desperate, Patel manages to keep Saroo sympathetic even as he veers into an obsessive state. His wide-eyed need to know where he came from grips the audience and makes it easy for people to root for him. They want him to find his home just as much as he does.
The younger actor playing Saroo is just as affecting. Pawar is only eight years old – six when he was first cast—but he handles this movie like a pro. The sequence when Saroo is stuck on the train is particularly heartbreaking, as Pawar alternates between screaming out the window for help and crying on the seats. He is definitely a child actor to look out for.
Kidman’s portrayal of the woman who adopts Saroo tugs at heartstrings, though one might wish the film delved a bit more into her relationship with him. The scene in which Saroo tells her he’s been looking for his biological mother is beautiful, and both Patel and Kidman shine. The other performances in the film are also great, if not as memorable. Rooney Mara is adult Saroo’s put-upon girlfriend Lucy, and, while she gives a good performance, she isn’t given any standout scenes here.
The film spends a great deal of time following young Saroo, which might be jarring for people who are expecting the whole thing to be dedicated to adult Saroo finding his way home. However, the moments with young Saroo give the film a greater emotional depth, because the audience can see exactly what he went through. That knowledge only makes adult Saroo’s scenes more powerful.
It is still uncertain just how many Oscar nominations Lion will be granted, but, hopefully, it will nab some technical ones as well as Supporting Actor for Patel and Best Picture. The editing is exceptional, especially in scenes where Saroo uses Google Maps to track his journey. The cinematography is also beautiful, with each shot leaving an emotional impact. Armed with gripping performances and an unbelievable true story, Lion has already made its presence known around Hollywood, and for good reason. It is a remarkable film and should be recognized as such.
Overall Grade: A-
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