Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lion Review

I make it no secret on this blog that my favorite type of films are independent films. While I do enjoy myself a good blockbuster or a major studio film, it's these smaller films that make going to the movies worth it for me. The fact that these movies don't have a large budget and aren't even guaranteed to make much money at all means that the filmmakers have to focus on storytelling and acting to make a good movie as opposed to leaning on explosions, intense action sequences and fancy special effects like many blockbusters do nowadays. Thus with these independent films we are taken back to the good old days where they didn't have the technology we do know and thus had no choice but to focus on good storytelling and acting in order to make a movie. The sad thing, though, is that it requires a bit more searching to find these excellent independent films. It often requires going out of your way to hunt them down as opposed to just looking at what's playing at your local theater. That's why I'm always on the lookout for a great independent film and when I find one, I do my best to announce it on the rooftops so that you don't have to do the searching. You just have to find where it's playing. And I've done it again. "Lion" is an absolute gem that you need to seek out!

There's always one or two movies in the Oscar season that sneak into a bunch of awards races despite not being super well known to the general public. Last year that movie was "Room." I don't think many casual movie-goers knew much about "Room" until it showed up in the best picture nominations and started winning awards. I think that "Lion" is that movie this year. Oscar nominations are coming up on January 24 and I believe that this is going to make it in to several of the big categories. Yet I predict that many casual movie goers will look at that list and be like, "What the heck is 'Lion'?" Well, I'm here to answer that before that question comes up. "Lion" is a very heart-warming, delightful, emotional film that needs to be seen. I went into the movie completely blind as to what the movie was about, so if you would like to do the same, just know that this movie is fantastic and you'll love it. Feel free to exit this review and go see it, then come back and read what I had to say. If you need to know a little more about what this movie is before you go see it, you can look at the trailer if you so desire or you can finish reading this review! It's up to you!

As far as the premise goes, this movie has absolutely nothing to do with the animal. This is not a DisneyNature film about lions and there aren't even any lions in the movie. So why is it called "Lion"? Well, I'm not going to tell you. That's a bit of surprise, but it certainly makes sense once you've seen the movie. I will say that it is adapted from the book titled "A Long Way Home," by Saroo Brierley, which is a much more descriptive title to what actually happens in the movie. Saroo Brierley wrote that book about the story of his own life. In the beginning of the movie, Saroo is an absolutely adorable young Indian boy. And when I say Indian boy, I don't mean Native American. I mean a little boy from the country of India. Saroo, who is around five years old, and his older brother Guddu, who is between 10-15 years old, live in humble circumstances with their mother. They are so poor that Guddu helps his mother find coal to make money and Saroo loves tagging along with him, confident that he can do everything that his older brother does. During one of their trips, Guddu tells Saroo to stay on a bench while he goes off and does something, but never returns, thus Saroo becomes lost.

While I can't remember exact ages of the characters in the film, Sunny Pawar is the little boy that plays Saroo and he is eight years old. Like Jacob Tremblay in "Room," this little boy is phenomenal in this movie. He is able to perfectly encapsulate the emotions of a little boy who tragically ends up lost. The movie becomes even more tragic when he boards a train to sleep in, only to end up stuck in that train as it takes off, taking him a long ways away from his home with absolutely no idea how to get back as he's too young to remember the exact name of the city he lives in. Saroo isn't a quiet little kid. He's a very talkative little guy with a cute voice, but like every little boy, when you end up being around a bunch of strangers in a foreign place, you become scared and super shy. Thus making it impressive that little Sunny Pawar is able perfectly capture that wide range of emotion in a little boy. If we still had that best juvenile award at the Oscars, which existed from 1934 to 1961 and awarded the best actor or actress under the age of 18, Sunny Pawar would definitely be my choice. He's just so adorable and manages to pull have such an emotional performance with this tragic story that will make it so you definitely want to have your box of tissues with you as you watch this movie.

Speaking of acting, I knew that Dev Petal and Nicole Kidman were supposed to be in this movie. They have been getting a lot of Oscar buzz and, outside a major shock, will be given best supporting actor and best supporting actress nominations accordingly. The opening credits also claimed that I would be treated to another Rooney Mara performance. But as I was sitting watching this movie about this lost boy in India, I began to wonder where in the heck are Dev, Nicole and Rooney? I was excited to see all three of them knock it out of the park like they always do, but they weren't showing up. I suppose that's why Dev and Nicole are getting supporting acting buzz as opposed to lead acting buzz. But then it happened. I didn't keep track of how far into the movie we got before the three of them showed up, but it happened when we jumped 25 years into the future. I don't want to say too much about this part of the movie, but needless to say, Saroo never finds home as a young child and is instead adopted by an Australian couple. Yup. Nicole Kidman is his adopted mother and it's David Wenham playing his adopted father. Rooney Mara is Saroo's girlfriend when he's older.

Many critics who have seen this movie are claiming this is Dev Patel's best work to date. Don't tell anyone, but I haven't actually seen "Slumdog Millionaire." Long story. The short version is that I've been meaning to get around to it, but haven't done so yet. Until I see that movie, I probably can't judge as to whether or not "Lion" is his best work, but it's certainly the best that I've seen. While Sunny is able to perfectly capture the emotions of a young boy who gets separated from his family, Dev does a perfect job picking up where Sunny left off, this time as an adult who still hasn't found his family. There is a lot of bottled up emotions here with this character that opens the door and allows Dev to shine. With this later part of the story taking place just a few years ago (the movie ends in 2012), Dev now has technology like Google Earth that allows him to go on a search for his home, which leads to a lot of drama between him, his girlfriend and his adopted parents. Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara and David Wenham all give excellent supporting performances that really build up Dev's performance, making for a fantastic emotional journey as this man is still searching for his home.

There's a lot more to be said about "Lion," but given that I went into the movie mostly blind, I want to save the rest of this fantastic little movie for you to discover on your own as there are a lot of layers to this film with some great themes to discuss. But needless to say, this is an absolutely heartwarming, emotional tale that will leave you both crying and glowing in happiness at the same time. My hat is off to director Garth Davis as this is his feature-length directorial debut. Man, what a first movie. With the time jump as well as a cast full of young children, there's a lot of pressure on the shoulders of a director to make a movie like this work. You have to make sure you get the best out of the child actors and you also have to make sure Sunny and Dev are in sync with one another as to make it believable that they are they are playing the same character. I think Davis handles this with perfection and this I'll be on the lookout for what he has up his sleeve next. And of course a big round of applause goes to every actor in this movie for making this work. With "Lion" I feel like I found a hidden gem and thus I hope all of you make an effort to see it. I'm giving "Lion" a 9/10.

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