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Lion Comes Close, but Misses the Mark

[SPOILER WARNING]

Lion Film ReviewHollywood has blessed Liberty Hall with quite a few tear-jerking films recently, not the least of these being Lion. This film stars Dev Patel as Saroo, who goes from being a child in India to growing up into a young man in Australia. Lion is a powerful movie, based on the true story of Saroo Brierly. The film follows his tale of separation from his biological brother as a small child, through the process of being adopted by his Australian parents, and up until he reunites with his biological mother as an adult.

It’s no wonder that this film was made. An adult man finding his mother via Google Earth in a remote town in India that he hasn’t seen in decades is truly incredible. Saroo’s journey tugs at the heartstrings from the beginning until the end, but the movie isn’t perfect. Though Patel gives an amazing performance (complimented by many of the excellent supporting actors, including Nicole Kidman), the film struggles with the screenwriter’s attempt to fit it in the box of a standard Hollywood movie. The romantic subplot with Rooney Mara detracts from Saroo’s emotional journey. Why did the screenwriter feel the need to include her? Perhaps to transfer some of his pain to a white woman because he thought it would make it more empathetic? Whatever the reason, Mara’s character falls extremely short. She centralizes his pain on herself, as if he is not allowed to mourn his losses. Her character is flat and unsympathetic, and honestly takes a large and unnecessary chunk of time in the movie.

Lion film reviewIn addition to Mara’s character, Saroo’s relationship with his adopted brother, Mantosh (played by Divian Ladwa) leaves much to be desired. It seems that the brother character appears only out of duty to the reality of the story, and as a foil to Saroo. His brother is not the handsome, athletic, driven, man that Saroo is; and the injustice to the brother’s character done by the film is hard to watch. Whereas Saroo struggles with leaving India only when he begins to search for the place he left, his brother struggles from the first day. However, instead of allowing viewers to empathize with him, the brother is a flat and stagnant character who causes problems and upsets his family. The film places Saroo on a pedestal for his emotional pain, and ostracizes Mantosh for his.

Despite these under-developed characters, the film as a whole brings light to a true story of incredible triumph. Lion is well shot, with beautiful Australian landscapes, and moving scenes of young brothers and the strength of bonds that children have. Would I recommend Lion to a friend? Yes. Would I award it the Academy Award for best film? Probably not. However, Dev Patel’s star-power increases with every project he does, and I look forward to watching his career develop.

You can see Lion and other great films at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, KS.