Film Review: Lion

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By Andrew Clarke (@AwaitingAndrew)
 
Lion is directed by Garth Davis in his feature film debut and is based upon the true story by Saroo Brierley. When we first meet Saroo in this film, he is a young boy played by Sunny Pawar who loves spending time with his older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), wanting to be involved in everything his brother does, as one might expect, and convincing himself he’s just as strong and grown to do anything Guddu can.
 
Unfortunately – spoiler warning for this and the two paragraphs that follow if you know nothing about this story – following his older brother leads to young Saroo becoming lost many miles from home, where the vast majority of people don’t even speak his Hindi language. Add that he knows his mom only as the Hindi word for “mom” and no one has heard of his home as he calls it, and Saroo and the audience begin to wonder if he will ever find home.
 
As the film unfolds, young Saroo is adopted by an Australian family, portrayed by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham. College-aged Saroo, now played by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), attends a school in Melbourne to major in hotel management. When he learns of a new program called Google Earth, he becomes dedicated to find his home and see his birth family once again after all these years of separation.
 
The second portion of this film finding young adult Saroo spending nights upon end on his computer trying to find his childhood home could have easily been a bore. Thanks to a compelling determination shown from Patel, the concern we see from his girlfriend, Lucy, played by Rooney Mara (Carol), and how this section is crafted by Garth Davis and cinematographer Greig Fraser (Rogue One), it’s anything but. As he retraces his steps, the film gorgeously interweaves shots from his youth as he sees his long lost brother and his younger self through flashbacks. And the end result gives audiences one of the most emotional scenes in the theater in the past year.
 
Lion 2
 
But Lion’s true roar comes from the first part of the film. This film opens with a shot from Fraser of Sunny Pawar’s Saroo surrounded by butterflies. It’s a scene that, much like this script, sounds simple and potentially uninteresting but is actually quite astounding on the screen. From that moment on, we the audience realize that it’s going to be a true spectacle watching young Pawar on the screen. He stole hearts of film fans everywhere when he appeared alongside co-star Dev Patel on the Golden Globes last month. And while Patel and Nicole Kidman’s performances have merited their nominations, Pawar truly steals the show in this film. Some have questioned Patel’s supporting nomination – claiming he receives too much screen time to be considered supporting – but watching Lion, one quickly realizes this is Sunny Pawar’s movie.
 
As a young, lost, and confused Saroo, Sunny Pawar is a natural. He blends into the role to the extent that eventually the audience is no longer seeing an actor on the screen but perhaps young Saroo himself – a rare feat, especially from a child actor. It’s, in my opinion, one of the greatest child performances of all-time. This part of the film is in Pawar’s native Hindi; while he can learn English phonetically to repeat words, but he knows not what he is saying or what it means, and as such, he has a translator with him for interviews about his performance. I would have to assume that filmmakers after seeing Lion are praying for Pawar to become well-versed in the English language as soon as possible so he can be a child star in every Hollywood film. As for me, I would be content to explore more Hindi films if they starred Sunny Pawar. He’s simply that good in Lion.
 
Lion follows Saroo Brierley’s nonfiction story about himself trying to find home – and learning quite a bit about family along the way. This story finds its home here thanks to strong directing from Garth Davis, Greig Fraser’s cinematography, and superb acting all around, especially from young Sunny Pawar, who is a natural in one of the greatest child performances I’ve ever seen.
 
I give Lion an 8.


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