The best thing about the Oscar nominated film, "Lion", is that it doesn't take a shortcut to wrecking your emotions, but it doesn't take your attention for granted either.
The film is unapologetically powerful in the scope of its story, but chooses a bare bones manner with which to transcend its message towards the audience over a two hour running time that never feels too quick or too slow.
"Lion" isn't just a story about being lost and found, but all the emotional chaos in between and the toll it can take on several people involved in a process that can span not only years but decades. Saroo(the scene stealing Sunny Pawar) is only 5 when he is left at a train station by his brother on a night of gallivanting through a small city in India. When his sibling doesn't return, poor Saroo is stuck on a train for two full days.
After surviving in various locations and facing many struggles along the way, he is adopted by an Australian family. It's not until he turns 30 that he must retrace the steps back to his original home and find out what happened to his family.
The entire time I watched this film, I couldn't stop thinking about Saroo's mother. When you are a parent, any time in public with your child turns into a presidential function and you are secret service. Your watch goes on for 24/7/365, and it is the same way for a brother or sister. I am the younger child in a group of two boys, and I can imagine my brother going home to tell my parents he lost me. Imagine being 5 and stuffing what little you knew of your early days into a box when you find a new adoptive family.
After 25 years of disregarding it, Saroo(played as an adult by Dev Patel) must find his mother and start recreating the steps back to his homeland. He does that using the wicked sharp technology Google Earth, where you can type in coordinates or street addresses and get a vivid picture of an incredibly small city on the worldwide map.
"Lion" is based on a true story, which was written by the real Saroo Brierley in the best-selling novel, "The Long Way Home". Without being able to tell you how the book is written exactly or how many strokes are translated to film, I can tell you director Garth Davis' way of staging this story is truly extraordinary. This movie wrecked me, and it doesn't hurt or help that I have a 5-year-old son. However, it doesn't matter if you are a parent or the child, because "Lion" will connect with everybody.
There's a restraint shown in even the most emotional of scenes that sets Lion apart from other melodramatic cinematic affairs. Greig Fraser's cinematography is gorgeous, and the score from Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O'Halloran is understated and powerful. The pacing of the film lends a credit to editor Alexander de Francesci, because you don't check your watch or wonder if you missed an important piece of storytelling. Everything in this film rolls into you like a steady stream of events, and the impact of the true story lands better that way.
The acting is stellar across the board, but the standout here is the young Pawar. With no disrespect to the Best Actor nominee Patel, the younger Saroo grabbed my heartstrings and didn't let go for two hours. After his screen time was finished, I wondered about the older years of Saroo and his teenage years. Pawar(making his film debut) isn't just cute or adorable; he's able to convey a battlefield of emotions that several grown-up actors struggle with after 30-to-45 film credits. Nicole Kidman is very good as the adoptive mother, and David Wenham and Rooney Mara give creditable, if not memorable, performances as other staples in Saroo's life. Patel is good, but upstaged by his younger co-star.
That's the kind of film "Lion" is; a hard knock life tale that really happened and doesn't have a neat bow tied at the very end of it. In using Google Earth and spending months finding his way back home, the cost on Saroo is enormous and even tougher on those around him. When he finally does find his way back, the revelation isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Lion doesn't shy away from showing the unfortunate circumstances of life.
Is it Oscar worthy? You bet it is. Davis' direction, Luke Davies script and Pawar's performance are all deserving of award attention. While I don't like the "extra" Best Picture nominees, Lion may not have made the list if it weren't for the extra spaces. As my good cinematic mind Landon Burris pointed out on my radio show last week, it is the kind of film that gets forgotten.
That's interesting, because when I left "Lion", it was all I could think about. I went home and gave my son a long hug. A film about determining how far you will go to figure out where you came from is the kind of film Academy Awards were made for.
Check it out before the Oscars on Feb. 26.