Lion (2016)

casey Based on the trailers I thought Lion was going to be a feel good movie, and I walked out feeling good so MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

brooke I felt so good at the end.
It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but the best movies never are.

casey Lion is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, a poor boy from an obscure Indian town who is separated from his family when he accidentally falls asleep in an empty train car after being left alone while his mother (Priyanka Bose and protective older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) are working. By the time the train stops Saroo is a thousand miles away in Calcutta, and effectively an orphan. The first half of the movie follows the surprisingly stalwart boy (played by Sunny Pawara) he navigates the slums and dodges child traffickers in scenes reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire. Eventually he’s rounded up into a government orphanage and adopted by kindly Australian couple John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman), and from there the movie flashes forward to an adult Saroo (Dev Patel), now fully integrated into his new life until events rouse him to locate his childhood family, primarily using Google Earth satellite images and his own patchy memories.

brooke It surprised me how much time the movie spends with the young Saroo. But the tiny Pawar turns in such a brilliant and natural performance as he goes from living as a happy but poor kid to navigating a life on the crowded and dangerous streets of Calcutta. Once he’s adopted by the Brierleys, we get a brief glimpse of him happy again, adjusting to his new life in Tasmania.
In the second act, Patel’s Saroo has completely forgotten his life before Calcutta, even telling friends that he was an orphan there until his early memories are triggered. The movie does a beautiful job of showing how Saroo’s past begins to haunt him: as a brooding Patel walks through Australian streets, he is often guided by the ghost of his brother, frozen in time the way Saroo remembers him.

casey Once Saroo begins his search it becomes an all-consuming obsession that transforms him from an easygoing, cheerful young man to a gaunt, haggard figure who pushes away his girlfriend and his parents, and causes him to unleash his pent-up resentment towards his adoptive brother Mantosh, another Indian boy the Brierleys adopted after Saroo. Saroo’s search is not adventure but a burden, and much of the movie centers on the turmoil it causes in his life. At times it feels like the movie is milking the tension a little too much, but it’s an interesting way to explore what the family means in such a complicated situation.

brooke I felt bad for the people around Saroo as his obsession consumed him, but it helps build to a satisfying end when he manages to rediscover this missing piece in his life.

casey The scene where he first locates his village (not a spoiler, if he didn’t there wouldn’t a movie!) feels farfetched, and the ending is a little too Hollywood, but those are forgivable sins because of their emotional payoff. I would have liked the film to have spent more time on Saroo’s relationship with Mantosh, but that’s a small complaint. Lion is the kind of independent movie that people who don’t watch a lot of independent movies will enjoy.

brooke I couldn’t agree more. I was impressed at how the director managed to keep such a consistent tone between the first part of the film and the rest, since so much changes–the actors, the language, the location.
Overall, Lion is charming as hell, due in large part to the fine acting of the young Sunny Pawar, and it’s one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

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