Friday, December 30, 2016

"Lion" Purrs More Than It Roars


Lion is based on a true story about an Indian boy named Saroo Brierley who became separated from his family when he was younger and ended up being adopted by a wealthy Australian family. As he grows older and becomes haunted by how distant he is from his home, Saroo uses Google Earth to set out to find his family. 

Some may think that this is Slumdog Millionaire 2.0 due to its Indian setting and Dev Patel starring in a portion of the picture since it focuses on Saroo's life as a child and an adult. But what sets this apart from Slumdog Millionaire is that it's based on a true story, allowing it to pack a bigger yet quieter emotional punch, and it is also a much different story. While not perfect, in my opinion, this is a slightly better film than Slumdog Millionaire.

It features solid performances from Dev Patel as the older version of Saroo and Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother. Even from her opening scene where she says so little, Kidman still sends off waves of emotion throughout each frame that she appears in. Patel does his best work to date as older Saroo who is content with his life yet is still unsure of where he belongs, resulting in him trying to follow his instincts. Rooney Mara has a role as Saroo's girlfriend Lucy, and even though her character didn't have anything to do, Mara still had a nice presence and she shows that no matter how big or small her role is, she always manages to leave an impression.

I also loved the cinematography by Greig Fraser which is absolutely beautiful. Even the earlier scenes in India that showcase its grimey, unforgiving nature, Fraser still captures the beauty that can be found in the darkness. Between this and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, he had a solid year.

Speaking of the earlier scenes, I loved how in the first half which is set in India, the characters speak Indian to help maintain some authenticity. Yet the rest of the screenplay by Luke Davies has its fair share of flaws. There is a subplot involving Saroo and his other adoptive brother that goes nowhere. Plus, during a big emotional scene that Nicole Kidman's character has, she gives a speech about being inspired to adopt by seeing a brown-skinned boy that felt a little weird. Kidman did her best to sell that part of her big speech but I still felt how it was written was pretty off.

Not only was the writing flawed but there are the times where the pacing is very slow. I would say that at least 15 minutes could've been cut out but I'm unsure exactly what could've been cut out. Probably the aforementioned subplot involving Saroo's adoptive brother and the character of Lucy. Again, Rooney Mara was very good, but her character didn't really add anything to the story.

So while Lion doesn't roar, it doesn't let out a small meow either. It does feature a trio of solid performances by Patel, Kidman, and Mara and it has a more subtle emotional punch. But the story does get predictable while the writing is flawed. It is a well-meaning story but I don't know if I'll be revisiting it more often.

Grade: B-