Monday, October 3, 2016

TIFF 16 Film Review - Lion

Five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) looks up to his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) following him around like a shadow everywhere he goes. They spend lazy days hopping on trains taking coal to sell in the city then walking on the rails to go back home.  Saroo is very active as he runs around his village and out to his mother where she crouches to work to collect rocks. One day Guddu goes to the local train station to look for work. Saroo begs to go along as well then the pair become separated with Saroo ending up on a train that travels 1600 Km away to Calcutta where Bengali not Hindi is the language and he is completely lost without precious little information to get back home.  He ends up in an orphanage where he is deemed suitable for adoption to Tasmania. He is very well adjusted compared to the second adopted child by the Brierley's Nicole Kidman & David Wenham.

Once grown Saroo (now Dev Patel) attends Hotel Management School in Melbourne where he learns of Google earth and begins the task of piecing together his past in an attempt to find his mother, brother and home. He is supported by his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) along with his classmates but he fears that his mother might see this as being ungrateful so he shuts her out of the process causing her even more harm giving the difficult situation with his brother Mantosh.  

Garth Davis directorial debut is a true story based on the book Lion by Saroo Brierey. The film is a commentary on the massive amount of children that go missing and wander the streets in India each year and the place of ones original culture when a child is adopted into a vast new environment. It's also a strong story on the altruistic Brierey's who decided to make it their goal to give children that  were already in the world and suffering a better life rather than having their own kids.

The early sequences where the young Saroo is alone in Calcutta fending form himself yet weary of questionable adults is a high point in the film. Saroo is befriended by Prama (Pallavi Sharda) but becomes suspicious of her friend Rawa (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). He is taught some skills by a social worker at the orphanage then quickly displays them once he is placed in the Brierey's home in Tazmania.  The contrast to his brother Mantoh is chilling as his childhood experiences are to traumatizing to let go despite being thousands of miles away on a new continent.

The film features many fine acting performances. Nicole Kidman is strong in a plain straight forward role of Sue Brierley. She is inspired by Saroo but at the same time drained by Mantosh then she looses Saroo as well to his private project to find his home. Dev Patel steps easily into the leading man role as Saroo. He's the total Australian surfer guy in his first moment on screen but when his classmates light the fire to search for his past he becomes obsessed shutting out everything else. The best performance belongs to Sunny Pawar as young Saroo. His struggle to survive on the streets, calling out for his brother and mother at night, attempting to communicate with the locals who speak  Bengali a both heart wrenching and tragic as he has little information plus a language barrier preventing him from returning home.    

Although the film lags early in the second part as the Google Earth searches are plodding and takes longer than needed. Lion is an emotional watch that quickly draws the audience into an invested state through its young hero and will challenging the viewer to remain dry eyed at several points in the piece. It's a strong debut film by a gifted filmmaker that we hope to see more work from in the future.

***  1/2  Out of 4

Lion | Garth Davis |Australia / UK / USA | 2016 | 129 Minutes.

Tags: Orphan, Hindi, Bengali, Decommissioned train, Calcutta, Adoption, Tasmania, Melbourne, Google Earth.

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