Dan Taylor continues our countdown to the 2017 Academy Awards by reviewing Best Film candidate Lion…
In a nutshell, Lion tells the story of young Indian boy named Saroo who finds himself alone and on the streets of Calcutta after being separated from his older brother over a thousand kilometres from home. The ordeal and hardships a young Saroo goes through probably spans almost the first hour of the film which not only surprised me but actually kept me gripped throughout. The honest portrayal of what life is like on the streets for a child is to the films credit and allows us time to care for Saroo and helps us understand his and Mantosh’s situation and sympathise with them and their behaviour later on in the movie. Sunny Pawar who plays adorable Saroo gives the finest performance of the feature portraying genuine moments of fear, heartache, loneliness and desperation which for such a young actor is commendable. In all honesty, it’s a shame he wasn’t put forward for any Supporting Actor awards as I genuinely that impressed by his performance.
Twenty years go by and we are introduced to a 25 year old Saroo played now by Dev Patel who not only nails the accent but once more proves that he is a safe pair hands after strong performances in the past including 2009’s Academy Award winning Best Film Slumdog Millionaire. But it’s Nicole Kidman who plays his adopted mother Sue, who we are introduced to only a few minutes earlier after Saroo jets out to his new life in Tasmania, that impresses most in the second half of the film. Kidman gives one of the finest performances of her career beautifully depicting the heartache of a mother who can only helplessly watch as her adopted sons struggle to forget the demons of their past.
However it’s the second half that does let the film down. Other than to serve as a tourist information video for the Oceania region, it’s hard to relate to a lot of the characters or care about their dilemmas and that’s never more evident than when Saroo separates from his university sweetheart Lucy (Rooney Mara). The relationship does nothing more than push forward the main plot as their whole love affair is over and done with in the space of 20 minutes and there are few indications the couple were ever happy. Granted, the film is based on a true story and I’m sure Saroo’s relationship with Lucy is a huge part of his life but on screen, Lucy serves as nothing more than a minor distraction.
Another low point is the relationship between Saroo and Mantosh. We are told about how close the brothers are and how Saroo looks out for Mantosh but we’re never really shown that on screen. Aside from a small but tender scene between Saroo and his sleeping brother from another mother, we’re not given any reason to invest in their relationship. Unlike Saroo and his biological brother Guddu whose relationship is practically at the heart of the whole film. That being said, the end of the film still incredibly moving and I’d be surprised if there was a dry eye in the house. Patel brilliantly blends shock, joy, devastation and heartache as the film comes full circle.
The film is a strong debut feature for Garth Davis but, unfortunately, I don’t think the Patel years were half as interesting or engaging as the first chapter of the film. The cinematography was beautiful and the long sweeping aerial shots captures the beauty of India and Tanzania. The score is also incredible, generally enhancing all the right moments. But it’s Pawar’s charming portrayal of young Saroo that steals the show with an incredibly raw performance. Lion is an Oscar contender for sure but I don’t think it’s the best film I’ve seen in the past year.
What did you think of this film? Does it deserve the Oscar? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or in comments below.