Thursday, 15 December 2016

Review: Lion

Cert: PG / 118 mins / Dir. Garth Davis / Trailer

Talk about an achilles-heel. In order to sell the cinematic adaptation of Saroo Brierley's remarkable life (in which he's separated as a five-year old from his family in poverty-stricken Khandwa, India, lives for several months 1600km away on the streets of Kolkata before being taken in by an orphanage then moved to Austrialia for adoption, then over twenty years later manages to track down his birth-mother by means of persistence, luck and Google Earth), the trailer has to focus on the English-language part of the film starring Dev Patel. In doing so, the trailer communicates absolutely nothing of what makes the story special.

The first half (roughly) of Garth Davis' film is set in India and follows Saroo as a young boy, showing how he came to be lost and the path of utter uncertainty which led to him being chosen for a new life in Tasmania. The first half of the film features a young actor named Sunny Pawar as Saroo. The first half of the film is compelling, enthralling and utterly heartbreaking. To say that Pawar is good would be an understatement. Even as child-actors go, I haven't seen a performance this strong since Jacob Tremblay in Room. When you also factor in that the majority of Sunny's scenes are either with one other actor or on his own, plus the subtitled nature of this half of the film meaning that his acting is almost entirely physical (from an English-speaking audience's point-of-view), I'd go as far as saying his is the best performance I've seen this year, hands-down. He strikes the perfect chord as being a child who's clearly highly intelligent, but almost completely uneducated (formally). He has the wits to survive as a stranger on the other side of an unbelievably harsh country, but doesn't know where he's from in order to try and get back there (although to be fair, how many five-year olds would?).

Things start getting a little more heavy-handed once Saroo is settled in Oz and we get a '20 years later' card, and by the time the story's skipped forward another twelve months, the Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara & David Wenham family drama has turned into a mawkish, over-acted soap-opera where the only performer who can do the story justice is Patel himself. And he's good, but he has so much to carry that I quickly lost interest and empathy with the story. However, when Saroo finally tracks down his old hometown on Google Earth, I did get a tingle (this is a true story, these aren't spoilers). And when he's finally reunited with his birth-mother, I did get a warm glow. And when the denouement of the film shows the real-life-actual Saroo with his real-life-actual mother Kamla, I did have something in my eye, a bit. And this is the only film in living memory where I can say that the transition to the story's real-life counterparts is welcome. Sully, take note.

Lion is good.
Dev Patel is very good.
Sunny Pawar is outstanding.

And with this exception of Dev, do your best to ignore the English-speaking cast…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well, it's a bit Hundred-Foot Journey in places.
For the right and wrong reasons

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Not especially.
That said (and this isn't just because of the answer to question 7), some of the photography in the film is absolutely outstanding

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does, but in spite of its best efforts not to.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's Sunny Pawar's first movie, but he's set his own bar high.
For everyone else? No

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The director of photography for Lion is a Mr Grieg Fraser, who coincidentally performs the same role for Rogue One.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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