Be prepared to rock the ugly cry
Lion (2016): A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
Lion is 2016's Room. An emotionally devastating story that seems so unlikely you think there's no possible way it's true. Yet.....it is. I'm still crying, as I write these first few sentences of this review, because it's just that much of an emotional trainwreck. Well done, Weinstein Company. There's no doubt this is the best film they've produced in at least five years. Well, it's now morning, and I am still reeling from this film. Obviously that's good movie making, and there's no doubt this will be in my top 5 best films of 2016, but now it's time for me to tell you why I think this is a top 5 kind of film.
Main reason it's in my top 5? The story. The story of Lion is simply incredible. Every moment of this film is gut wrenching, even the slower paced moments. But this film just picked me up and carried me throughout its 118 minute run-time. We spend pretty much the entire first half of the film with a young Saroo, played here MARVELOUSLY by newcomer Sunny Pawar, This segment could've sunk the entire film if it wasn't as beautifully shot and acted as it was. Throughout the sequence Sunny Pawar has to convey emotions with just his face, and he does so simply marvelously. The audition for young Saroo must have been grueling, but they found their poster child with Sunny. After a brutal and emotional 45 minutes or so, young Saroo finally finds a home with John and Sue, played by David Wenham (of Lord of the Rings fame) and Nicole Kidman.
Let's talk about Nicole Kidman for a moment, ya? Because this just might be my favorite performance of 2016. Kidman really isn't in this film a whole lot. The story is, after all, about Saroo, and as it progresses he spends more time with his girlfriend (played by Rooney Mara) than he does with Nicole Kidman. But every single scene Kidman was in she just stole the show. She made me cry more than anyone else has all year, and she did it just with her facial expressions. I think director Garth Davis and company realized they had something great on their hands as the shooting for the film went on, because early on when you see Kidman it was often in wide shots that included David Wenham, but as the film went on those wide shots turned into closeups of just Kidman. There's a sequence towards the end of the film between Kidman and Dev Patel, who plays Saroo as an adult, where the entire sequence basically held on Kidman's face, and she was conveying so much emotion with just her eyes.....it was absolutely devastating.
In addition, this film has a trove of Bollywood stars, most notably Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who is one of the A-listers of Bollywood. A lot of these actors I wasn't familiar with, so it was very cool to see them in this film. Oh, and before I forget, I was crying for the entire last 15 minutes of the film. So, just prepare for that. I know that comment was very out of place there, but I forgot to mention it earlier so....there you go. Anyway, there were a few problems with the film that keep it from a perfect score. One was the pacing of the film, particularly in the first half. There are a lot of things that happened to young Saroo, and while they are devastating and are meant to serve a real-life purpose, it does throw off the pacing a far amount. This is such a tough one for me, because there's no doubt the opening sequences should be there, but it still doesn't change the fact that the meat of this story is in the second half, and it takes too long to get there. Additionally, and this may be a very Joseph-complaint, but I wasn't a huge fan of the score. It was nominated for an Oscar, so a lot of people like it, but it bothered me. Ready for why? This is the Joseph-complaint part. The main theme sounded EXACTLY like "Light of the Seven" from Game of Thrones Season 6. Yes, THAT sequence. So every time I heard the main them all I could think of was Game of Thrones! I know this was totally accidental, and when the main theme wasn't playing I certainly dug the unorthodox score, but COME ON. "Light of the Seven" is like one of the coolest and eeriest uses of music in a TV/film sequence in recent memory. You cannot sound even close to that opening piano sequence with your main theme for a film. That, my friends, is a fail.
That said, Lion is still an incredible work of cinema, and for most they won't care about either of those two complaints I just mentioned so they will certainly be in for an emotional roller coaster all throughout the film. It's beautifully shot and beautifully edited (should've received a Best Editing nomination. Just saying) and has great set design too. It's a fantastic smashing of Bollywood and Hollywood and well-deserving of its 6 nominations. Check it out.
The Critique: One of the best films of the year, Lion is an emotional roller coaster of a film that is well worth your time.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for anyone.
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
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