Review: “Lion”

Posted by Michael Parsons on December 20, 2016 in / No Comments


You can simply read the synopsis of “Lion” and get teary-eyed, so it’s no wonder that the movie, based on Saroo Brierley’s chronicle “A Long Way Home”, will want to make you hold your just kids a little tighter after watching it. Dev Patel headlines this story of the five-year-old Indian boy who gets separated from his older brother and ends up  in Calcutta, hundreds of miles from his tiny town of Ganesh Tilai (which, like his name, he would mispronounce for his entire life). Ending up in one of so many orphan factories where the movie alludes to some of the horrifying things that happen there, the boy Saroo, played by newbie Sunny Pawar, winds up being saved by an adoption coordinator (Deepti Naval) and placed with an Australian family (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham).

Two decades later, Saroo is a grown man (Patel). He meets girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) during his studies at Hotel School, and a serious relationship develops, but then the world’s biggest Google ad gets in the way. It is true: a large portion of the biopic lion-1-882367056follows Saroo’s understandably obsessive search for his birth family online; He’s plagued by the thought that his mother (Priyanka Bose) and older brother (portrayed as a youth by Abhishek Bharate) have suffered all these years not knowing what had happened to him.

This causes  strain on his relationships—with Lucy, his adoptive parents (Wenham is great, Kidman’s best in a while), and particularly with his adopted brother (Divian Ladwa, notable in some tough-to watch moments), another Indian boy, now a man, struggling with severe PTSD. With Rooney’s character relegated to the periphery, “Lion”—rather, Patel—muscles through the make-or-break point, where either an inspirational story would continue to develop or it would plateau as a movie about a guy on a laptop.

Google aside, some good biopics have been made from far less compelling material. Fresh out of the gate, Aussie director Garth Davis conveys a good sense of time and place, though urgency dissipates a bit since the film runs a rather long 118 minutes.  The first half hinges entirely on young Pawar, perhaps a Patel in the making, while Patel holds the final act together almost entirely on expression and watery eyes. I have not yet read “A Long Way Home”, but I imagine that screenwriter Luke Davies’ adaptation is pretty faithful to Brierley’s memoir; it’s the cast, though, that does justice to Saroo’s story.

Select Cities, Opens in Washington, DC December 25th

— M. Parsons

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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