Manipulative in the Best Possible Way: “Lion” Movie Review (3 Stars)

Great performances and smart direction make this conventional “based on a true story” movie a grade above the rest. 

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Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar in “Lion”

 

Lion could’ve been an extremely forgettable film. Another true story movie that has a predictable arc and leaves the audience in tears. However, Lion (under the direction of first time feature film maker Garth Davis) is told in an unexpected and beautiful way.

Lion is the story of Saroo, who when he is 5 years old, gets separated from his older brother on a train in India and carried thousands of kilometers away from his home. We follow this young boy through a series of tribulations before he is ultimately adopted and raised by an Australian couple.  Now, the reason this story garnered so much attention when it happened was that 25 years later, Saroo used the technology of Google Maps and his limited memory of being separated to find his home and his mother.

Screenwriter Luke Davies had the difficult job of translating this story to the screen and making interesting for an audience. For the most part, he succeeds. Where he runs into trouble is in the later half of the movie.

The first half of the movie is told only following 5-year old Saroo (first time actor, Sunny Pawar.). This actor is easily the best part of the film. He is so engaging and beguiling,  I could’ve followed his story for another couple hours. But we have to jump forward in the story. And this transition leaves any relationships for Saroo in the dust.

The only semblance of a relationship the audience really cares about after that is with his adoptive mother ( a SUBLIME Nicole Kidman!) Rooney Mara plays a girlfriend of Saroo’s that has no point in furthering the story or furthering his character. I feel like she was added just to give extra conflict to what is already a very troubled life.

The latter half of the film, Saroo is played by a never better Dev Patel. The thing going against Patel, though, is the boy playing his character for the first half of the film is so incredibly good – you almost feel let down by the transition into the older version. Side note: Patel is being campaigned in the Supporting Actor race even though his character is the lead of the film. The thinking behind this is that he is only in the second half of the film, but this is clearly category fraud.

Garth Davis uses smart direction to keep the pace up in what could’ve been a very slow moving story. Greig Fraser’s beautiful cinematography is a feast for the eyes, Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran are basically guaranteed an Oscar nomination for their haunting score.

Lion does fall into dangerous territory at the end. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt ending that leaves audiences in puddles of tears.  But they also play that ending out for all it’s worth and fall into dangerously manipulative filmmaking. It’s all predictable storytelling, but you can easily look pass those flaws because of the many beautiful moments that lead up to them.

Awards Potential: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Patel), Best Supporting Actress (Kidman), Best Original Score

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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