Saturday, January 7, 2017

LION (2016)

Rated: PG-13

STARS: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Abhi Shek Bharate
DIRECTOR: Garth Davis
GENRE: Drama

The longing for "home"--wherever and whatever that might be--is universal, as we learned in E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Adapted from the memoir The Longing For Home by Saroo Brierley, Lion chronicles the amazing story of a young boy separated from his family at the age of five, who follows a harrowing, circuitous route to find the place of his origin once again.

The young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) lives with his mother and older brother, Guddu (Abhi Shek Bharate), who eke out a hardscrabble existence in rural India. One day, while hopping trains with Guddu, Saroo becomes separated from his brother and mistakenly ends up on a train that carries him a thousand miles in the wrong direction. He disembarks in Calcutta, where he joins other children who sleep on the streets. He ends up in an orphanage, and is later adopted by a white Australian couple. Now he's a very long way from home. But his new mom, Sue (Nicole Kidman), and her husband love him dearly, and he grows to care for his adoptive parents as well.

Lion is a film in two distinctive parts. The first section is the tense and action filled story of the young Saroo. The second is a more cerebral tale of Saroo as a young man (Dev Patel) who is haunted by the memory of his family of origin--sensing that they have been searching for him all these years.

Saroo begins a laborious internet search, exacerbated by the fact he doesn't remember the proper spelling of his village, or have any idea where it is located. At first, he doesn't want to reveal to his adoptive parents what he's up to, not wishing to hurt them. But it eventually comes out. It has to.

Dev Patel, who has matured greatly as a serious actor, gives a first-rate performance. And Oscar winner Nicole Kidman--in my opinion there is no finer actress on the silver screen today--delivers a multi-layered, emotionally searing turn (in limited screen time) as a mother who only wants her son to be happy. The lovely Rooney Mara--also with a host of nominations and awards to her credit--has a similarly small part as Saroo's Australian girlfriend, Lucy, who rides that emotional roller coaster along with Sue when she learns of Saroo's intentions to make the trans-continental journey to connect with his roots. I always admire big stars who sign on for relatively small roles in certain films because it tells me their egos are firmly under control!

With gorgeous cinematography from Grieg Fraser, Lion is part adventure tale and travelogue (capturing the teeming beauty of India), and part love story in the many manifestations of the word that exist. A film that is surprising in its depth. And the ending will knock you out.

Suffice it to say that if you don't carry a box of tissues into the theater with you, you'll be sorry.

Grade:   A


Make that two boxes of tissues! (I was bawling at the end, unable to be objective about anything.) Despite its misleading title, Lion is a cinematic gem. There's nary a lion on-screen unless you count the courageous five-year-old Saroo, who survives in a city where he doesn't even speak the language. The child actor who plays him (Sunny Pawar) is unabashedly beautiful. Hell, I'd adopt him and I don't even like kids!

It's always difficult when a film has two definite storylines but, in this case, director Garth Davis did a masterful job holding my interest in both. He has very few movie credits, as he is better known as an internationally successful commercials director. But after Lion, I'll bet a lot of rupees his directorial skills will be in serious demand. The screenplay was created by the original author Saroo Brierly and Luke Davies. After seeing the film, I'd like to read the book. I'm sure his love story was explored in  more detail. For me, in the film version, it felt tacked on. I resented Lucy's neediness (i.e. love for Saroo), as I was way too caught up in his homeward journey to care about it. I also got impatient with his Google-searching. Yes, it was necessary. But how visually interesting is seeing fingers typing on a keyboard?

Still, this film is absolutely worth seeing. Aside from the emotional impact Lion has on its audiences, the scenery (from aerial shots of a desolate countryside, to the stampeding masses of human bodies in Calcutta) will take you out of your own story and into his.

Grade:  A