The new film Lion directed by Garth Davis and starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara is they type of work that screams Oscar bait. Based on a true story, Lion is the harrowing life journey of Saroo, a person who at age 5 got lost in India and wound up on the streets of Calcutta a thousands of miles away from his original home with no one to take care of him. The film follows Saroo as young boy all the way up to adulthood after he is adopted by a wealthy Tasmanian family who raise him. Even with his troubled days of a street kid far behind him, Saroo begins to struggle mentally with the questions he has about what happened to his mother and brother he left behind. The adult version of Saroo played by Dev Patel starts an obsessive quest to find answers and fill the hole he has in his heart.
Lion is really a tale of two films (no pun intended) wrapped into one Oscar worthy package. The first half of the movie with young Saroo is actually quite terrifying. Imagine being a poorly educated young child stranded on the streets of a foreign city with no one willing to help you. You live in constant fear and confusion as predators in the form of adult men look to abduct and do unspeakable things to these homeless children who litter the streets of India. All theses emotions young Saroo deals with is conveyed to the audience by the strong performance of Sunny Pawer who plays young Saroo. The newcomer does a terrific job as the little boy who must avoid the dangers that await him everyday. Lion is subtly suspenseful for the viewers as you don’t know if the characters Saroo encounters are friend or foe.
The second half of Lion deals with Saroo long after his days on the streets and now living a plush life thanks to his adoptive parents played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham. This part of the film is anchored by emotional performances by Dev Patel and Kidman who struggle with the families issues and Saroo’s search for answers. It’s a good thing the acting is so compelling in the second half, because this is where some of the issues in Lion start to arise. The film does spin it’s wheels a bit heading into the conclusion with Saroo seemingly going through the same routine over and over again while looking for this family. Compared to the intense first half with Saroo avoiding sexual predators in every dark alley, the second half of the film set in modern times is quite tame.
Besides the amazing work from Patel and Kidman, what saves Lion from having the Oscar train come off the tracks in the lackluster middle is the movie’s final act. The ending is sad, heartwarming and most of all real. The minor missteps are all erased thanks to conclusion that will give you all the feels from both ends of the spectrum. Lion is a gorgeous film with an astounding cast recreating an incredible true story that finishes strong while also bringing awareness about these small children who live a horrific life in squalor on the streets of India.
Overall, I give Lion 3.25 out 4 stars.
Read all T.M.’s reviews here–>Entertainment Now with T.M. Powell