Known by many for its presence at the Oscars, Garth Davis’ film “Lion,” an adaptation of Saroo Brierly’s autobiography “A Long Way Home,” tells the incredible true story of a young Indian boy estranged from his family by hundreds of miles.
Nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor, “Lion” is critically acclaimed, but not widely known. With a small marketing campaign, the film became popular when it was highlighted at the Oscars.
However, its recent appearance on Netflix has opened the movie to a much broader audience, and it’s definitely worth the two-hour running time.
“Lion” is tightly packed, but never wastes time. It showcases powerful performances and beautiful settings, all while telling a compelling narrative.
Impeccable cinematography introduces the audience to the hidden beauty of rural India and the adventurous spirit of a young boy named Saroo. Played wonderfully by child actor Sunny Pawar, Saroo is left at a train station one night by his brother, and awaking to find him gone, searches in an abandoned locomotive for him. Falling asleep in the train, he awakes in the morning to find it moving.
Taken away a distance of nearly 15,000 kilometers, Saroo is lost in the city, unable to speak their language or find his way home. Ending up in an orphanage, Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham. When Saroo grows up, Dev Patel portrays him as a young man struggling with his identity and searching for his home.
“Lion” is often described as Oscar bait — a movie released toward the end of the year that portrays serious, usually tear-jerking material through somber cinematography and intense performances by Academy Award-winning actors for the goal of receiving an Oscar nomination. The nominations often help with marketing and box office success.
The Weinstein Company, “Lion’s” production company, is commonly accused of producing movies falling into this category. The term, however, is often used loosely and inaccurately, and “Lion” is a perfect example of this.
The film is exceptional. It’s visually astounding, with bright colors and stunning direction.
“Lion” portrays the dusty yet vivid rural village where Saroo is born with a delicate eye, the bustling and colorful city he is lost in with care and caution, and the incredible natural beauty of Tasmania with enthusiasm. The soundtrack allows the viewer to experience the atmosphere of the film, and captures the emotional peaks and valleys of the story.
The performances by the cast allow the movie to truly soar. Sunny Pawar’s breakout performance carries the first act of the film. With a less talented child star, “Lion” would undoubtedly fail. Nicole Kidman’s Academy nominated portrayal of Sue Brierly is as powerful as it is heartbreaking. Dev Patel makes a performance to even surpass his past role in “Slumdog Millionaire,” earning him another nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Even if the film falls into certain Oscar bait tropes, it defies many other Hollywood tropes. The first half hour of the film, and nearly the entire first act, is spoken in Hindi. The filmmakers resisted studio pressure to move the Tasmanian setting to America to appeal to a broader audience. The filmmakers truly understood the importance of the setting, and staying true to the story.
Those looking for a quality movie night, seeking a heartfelt tale about the plight of Indian youth, or just wondering what the Oscar hype was about should make sure to watch “Lion.” As someone who was simply checking it off my watchlist, I went in expecting stars and was given the moon.