Middleburg Film Review: ‘Lion’ Takes Tear-Jerker to a Whole New Level


lion-movie-poster-dev-patel2016 MIDDLEBURG FILM FESTIVAL: Harvey Weinstein sure knows how to pick out stories that tug at the heartstrings, as is demonstrated by his newest production “Lion.” In his feature film debut, director Garth Davis creates a formally riveting and emotionally shattering look into the complexities of family and the ache of separation. Based on the incredible true story, “Lion” is an inspiration and a testament to the vitality of the human condition and who we really are.

“Lion” tells the story of a 5-year-old Indian boy named Saroo (Sunny Pawar), who gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before finally being adopted by a couple in Australia. As an adult (played then by Dev Patel) 25 years later, he sets out to find the family he lost.

The mind-blowing takeaway from “Lion” is the towering performance of Patel. We all got to know him eight years ago in the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire.” Since then, we’ve only seen a shadow of the promise with turns in films like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “The Last Airbender” not quite landing. As older Saroo, Patel has tapped his full potential. It’s a wondrous, singular performance that shocks the soul with its depth.

Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar star in LION Photo: Mark Rogers © Long Way Home Productions 2015
Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar star in LION Photo: Mark Rogers © Long Way Home Productions 2015

On the other side of Patel is the young Sunny Pawar. Just as adorable as he is talented, he sets the foundation for Patel’s remarkable turn with fabulous detail. As the adoptive parents, Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman and David Wenham shine stupendously. Kidman’s loving and struggling mother is dynamic, allowing her to deliver her finest turn since “Rabbit Hole.” Much more brief, Wenham is simply exquisite. Rooney Mara isn’t afforded too much opportunity as Saroo’s love interest Lucy. At times, she exudes more of an annoyance than a sympathetic figure.

Luke Davies‘ writing is at times actively compelling. He snags our attention, begs for love, and earns every bit of his ending. The film is as cookie-cutter as any Oscar contender that’s been released in the past few years. It checks all the necessary boxes that we’ve come to expect. For some, that’s more than enough: they don’t need any new, uncharted territory to explore. For others, we sometimes hope for a new dynamic on the screen. Perhaps, a fresh take on presenting standard material (by filmmaking standards) in a crisp, brand-new way, would have been warranted.

Composers Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran find a chord and march it to the film’s heart-wrenching finale. Greig Fraser‘s camera work is steady and stern, parading through his characters’ lives as an innocent bystander.

Lion” is a compelling piece of entertainment – energetic, absorbing and robustly constructed. It is something that audiences are going to be drawn to in the most irresistible manner.

“Lion” is distributed by the Weinstein Company and will hit theaters on Nov. 25.

GRADE: (★★★½)