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‘Lion’ Can’t Quite Tame Audience’s Hearts

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Average: 5 (1 vote)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – “Lion” is the kind of inspirational-triumph-over-insurmountable-odds and adversity stories that’s bound to appeal to grandmothers and Academy voters, and it does offer plenty of material to tug at the heartstrings. But it’s a movie that only gets the job half done, and unfortunately loses its way once Nicole Kidman comes into the picture.

The film is based on the true story of a young boy in India named Saroo (played as a boy by Sunny Pawar). We meet him on the streets with his brother scrounging scraps and stealing coal to buy enough food to support their family. Their mother works as a laborer moving rocks, but can’t read or write – she gives her children love, but can’t give much more. Desperate to find any work to feed their family, Saroo tags along when his older brother tries to find some night labor.

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Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) Searches for His Roots in ‘Lion’
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company

Saroo gets sleepy while waiting for his brother Rawa (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and he wanders into a neighboring train that has been decommissioned and dozes off. He wakes up and finds himself stuck on a train travelling for two days. When he finally gets off the train, he has no idea where he is and he’s in a part of India that speaks an entirely different language. These scenes involving the little boy lost and looking for someone, anyone, to help him find his way back to his home are the movie’s most powerful. After some scrapes with nefarious characters, and living on the streets, he eventually winds up in an orphanage.

From there he’s adopted by an Australian couple played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham. Kidman can still pull off an icy glare of disapproval, but can’t really emote much else besides a state of perpetual controlled annoyance as she tries to teach the young boy how to act in this new society. The couple wants to be the white knights for disadvantaged children, and Saroo initially takes to his new homeland quite well. This is compared to his newly adopted brother Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), who bears more emotional scars from his own childhood.

Flash forward 20 years and we get a heaping helping of dysfunctional family drama. Adult Saroo (Dev Patel) is the good son trying to please his adopted mother and Mantosh is the screwed up brother, while Nicole Kidman’s character gets to cry while seeing her babies all grown up. Saroo initially heads off to college for hotel management, but then he embarks on his own journey to find his biological family after encountering an Indian dish at a party…which is where the movie loses steam.

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Nicole Kidman is the Mother in ‘Lion’
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company

Rooney Mara is wasted in a superfluous role as Saroo’s love interest (he meets her at a hospitality management course). And at that point, the film loses its authentic flavor and begins to resemble just another “Awards bait” drama. There’s an uplifting ending of course, but it really felt like Kidman and Mara were shoehorned in purely for marketing purposes – because they needed a couple of white stars to help sell the movie.

“Lion” is not without its merits, but it’s not the movie it could have been. I think if the filmmakers had a little more faith in the main character’s story – and didn’t feel the need to add in a lot of unnecessary elements and characters – this good movie might have been great.

”Lion” opened everywhere on December 25th. Featuring Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Divian Ladwa. Screenplay adapted by Luke Davies, from a memoir by Saroo Brierley. Directed by Garth Davis. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com contributor Spike Walters

By SPIKE WALTERS
Contributor
HollywoodChicago.com
spike@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2016 Spike Walters, HollywoodChicago.com

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