Before seeing this movie, I don’t think certain aspects of the film had rung in my head. I’ll get into that in my review, but initially, I thought this movie was going to be pretty pretentious. I mean, Dev Patel playing a Middle Eastern young man, gets separated from his home and makes a long journey back… sounded an awful lot like SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008) if you ask me. But hey, Patel’s a reliable talent. Even if I think the movie itself wouldn’t be anything special, I figured we’d still get a quality performance out of him.
Well, I’ve gotten a head start on my thoughts of cast, so let’s jump into it. Patel, as I said, is a great actor. A bit underappreciated by Hollywood as a whole, hiring him to play Indian characters, and I hope the man gets due respect in the future and given more mainstream roles that aren’t due to his ethnicity. But if we have to get him in a circle that he’s not allowed to leave, at the very least, we can throw our hands up in frustration, then proceed to admire how he owns that circle like a boss. In supporting roles, we have Rooney Mara (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS , CAROL , and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO ), Nicole Kidman (SECRET IN THEIR EYES , PADDINGTON , and MOULIN ROUGE! ), and DAVID WENHAM (300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE , AUSTRALIA , and the second two Lord of the Rings films).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing is Garth Davis, making his feature film debut. Congrats, sir. Penning the screenplay is Luke Davies, known for LIFE (2015), RECLAIM (2014), and CANDY (2014). Co-composing the music is Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran. Bertelmann is known for some unknown films like THE BOY (2015), WILD HORSES (2013), and BLISS (2012), and O’Halloran is known for EQUALS (2016), LIKE CRAZY (2011), and TV show TRANSPARENT. Finally, the cinematographer is Greig Fraser, known for FOXCATCHER (2014), ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012), and LET ME IN (2010).
Overall, I went in without many expectations. I was expecting to see a movie I’d seen before, but I was in it for Patel and little else. How did it hold up when I saw it? This is my honest opinion of LION.
Based on a true story. Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) is of Indian descent, adopted to loving Australian couple John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman respectively). There’s a reason why he was adopted. At the age of five, young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) lived in India with his mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) and older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). But one night, as Guddu is about to leave to go work for some extra money, Saroo insists on coming to help. But upon arrival, he’s too tired to work and Guddu has to leave him, ordered Saroo to stay. But Saroo doesn’t listen, sits in an empty train and finds himself traveling who knows how many miles from home. Wandering the local area, struggling to find food, shelter, and avoid being captured by men involved in child trafficking, he eventually finds himself in a shelter where he’s informed that he will be adopted by the Australian couple. Upon arrival, he soon accepts his new life and lives happily for over twenty-five years. But it isn’t long before his memories of his childhood come flooding back and a burning desire to try and find his home that he lost so long ago, even at the cost of his relationship with his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) and even his parents.
Somehow I didn’t connect the dots when I saw the trailer, but this was an adoption/reunification movie. For those that don’t know me very well, these are the stories that hit home hardest for me, as I am adopted myself. To say that I love this movie would be a gargantuan understatement. I cried multiple times throughout the story.
Where do I even start with this?
During Saroo’s life in India, obviously he came from poverty. Despite life being hard, he didn’t complain much. Neither did his brother or mother. They weren’t rich, but they were happy enough when things weren’t going wrong. But as soon as Saroo is ejected from his life, you see this little kid that just doesn’t quite understand what’s happened. He knows he’s lost, but he doesn’t have the faintest idea of how lost he really is. To him, he might just be a couple miles away from, but in reality, he’s in a whole new city, possibly hundreds of miles away. There’s also this real tension and heartbreak when you see this little kid forced to sleep in a train station on a flattened cardboard box and when goons arrive to take them away for whatever reason.
A month or two into his time in this new place, he’s been nearly pawned off to perverts and near-starvation, eventually finding his way to a shelter for homeless kids where he’s eventually adopted by John and Sue. Kidman and Wenham give probably the most subtle visceral performances I’ve seen out of them in a long time. I genuinely saw happiness, pride, hope, and probably a few more emotions that have no words; the kind of emotions that only an adoption can bring out in someone.
Another wonderful aspect in the film is that I didn’t always know where it was going. A year into his adoption with the Brierleys, they adopt another boy, young Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav). Mantosh is a bit less well-adjusted like Saroo is, prone to temper tantrums. Whether from confusion of his new surroundings or from trauma from the experiences he was forced to endure in his previous life, or both, it’s open for interpretation. But the way this series of scenes are shot, Saroo takes one look at how John and Sue have to give him special attention, I predicted that Saroo was going to wind up being jealous of Mantosh’s attention and grow up to be a troubled man who hates his adopted brother. But nope, there’s a scene where Sue is crying in the kitchen and Saroo sees her. Instead of ignoring her, he just smiles and hugs her. I think this was the first moment I started crying, by the way, and it’s implied in their adulthood that Saroo was actually very protective of Mantosh (Divian Ladwa).
From this point on, it’s all Patel’s show and he is utterly phenomenal. You see a mid to late twenties young man, trying to make his mark on the world. He has ambition and he even finds time to find a little romance. But you also see that he hasn’t forgotten where’s come from and after learning about Google Earth, he has renewed conviction in finding his birth home and spends a crap-load of time figuring it out. This eventually puts a strain on his relationship with Lucy and the two eventually break up. For the record, I had no idea Lucy was being portrayed by Mara. I associate her with long black hair, as opposed to her look here, but god damn is she still damn talented. I really liked these two characters together. She wants to help him, but whether through pride or some compulsion that only an adopted kid would understand, he doesn’t allow her to, and that eventually ends the relationship for a time and even puts a strain on his relationship with Sue and John.
But as soon as he makes headway and finds his home, returning to India, retracing his steps and reuniting with his mother… yeah, I couldn’t stop crying. This was probably the most emotionally gratifying movie I’ve seen in a long-ass time. Perhaps it’s because I can relate to this more than I might care to admit. I’ve always had my own desires to find my biological parents. So to see Saroo, whom at the time was about my current age, did what I’ve always wanted to do, it’s… I don’t know how to put it into proper words.
I think this is an extraordinary film, filled to the brim with raw emotion. It is probably one of the most captivating stories this year that certainly left me with hope and might have even reinvigorated a desire to try and find my own biological family. But the film itself it truly wonderful and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Just bring a box of tissues. I know this movie is probably limited in its release, but if you can find it, do yourself a favor and go see it.
My honest rating for LION: 5/5