Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lion Review

'Every night I imagine that I'm walking those streets home and I know every single step of the way, and I whisper in her ear, "I'm here."'

 As daylight flickers across weary eyes, the rattle of a moving train beats repetitively in young Saroo's (Sunny Pawar) ears. Unexpectedly, he finds himself trapped on an empty train that takes him 1600km away from his home and family, to Calcutta. Taken in by a local orphanage, Saroo is soon adopted by a couple in Tasmania, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). In an attempt to rediscover his roots, an older Saroo, played by a rugged but ever handsome Dev Patel, begins the search to find his home again.

It is Lion's first act that proves to be the most energetic and gripping. Unspooling with vivid imagery and unshakeable spirit, it captures the frantic pace and atmosphere of the Indian streets as Saroo navigates them alone. Unable to even make himself understood in the local Bengali language, Sunny Pawar captures a heart-melting innocence in his debut role that makes him absolutely captivating to watch.

Greig Fraser's elegant cinematography stuns throughout, with the film's most beautiful moments found in the rolling desert hills and sun dappled, dusty air of Saroo's village. Striking as these moments may be, Fraser by no means shies away from the darker, more hostile edges of Saroo's journey. Along with director Garth Davis, he shines a light on India's criminal underbelly, and the child exploitation rings that loom menacingly over the lost and abandoned children stranded on its unforgiving streets.

Once Saroo is adopted into his new home, the pace begins to slow. Though jarring at first, the change of pace isn't entirely unwelcome. The unrelenting action of the first half is replaced by complex and deeply textured character development that broaches Saroo's relationship with his adoptive parents, and his troubled adoptive brother Mantosh (Divian Ladwa). Patel channels Saroo's insuppressible, and universal need for connection with authenticity, and showcases just how far he's come since Skins, or even Slumdog Millionaire.

With great subtlety, and without so much as even once coming across as overtly political, Lion acknowledges the importance of embracing one's roots in a time when so many feel they must hide or be ashamed of them. In the Brierley's simple, loving act of taking in children from broken homes and impoverished backgrounds, a message of unity and openness can be felt. The depiction of a true story about the selflessness of real people and the search for home and identity delivers a poignant message. Lion's genuine nature is palpable and makes for deeply soul-satisfying viewing.