Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

Lion (PG-13)

Directed by: Garth Davis
Starring: Dev Patel
January 2017

What follows is the full-length review based on comments that were originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

What could be more frightening for a five-year-old boy than being separated from his family and not knowing how to get home? Such is the premise for Lion, the alternatingly heartbreaking and heartwarming missing person’s story which is based on true events and stars Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham and Nicole Kidman. The story begins in India, moves to Australia in the middle and then returns to India for its stirring conclusion. The film’s exotic locations (which include West Bengal, India and Tasmania, Australia) are absolutely breathtaking and are wholly immersive—it’s almost as if we can feel the pebbles under characters’ sandals as they walk on gravelly paths, or get a chill from the cold, hard train station floor as Saroo (Sunny Pawar) sleeps alongside other indigent kids, or taste the sweet flavor of the bubbly orange soda offered to Saroo by a seemingly helpful woman. Though the film certainly engages the senses it also stimulates the mind and accesses the emotions in powerful and profound ways. The early stages of the movie detail the traumatic events of Saroo’s separation from his family, the hair-raising episode where he narrowly avoids being sold as a sex slave, the brief passage where he is taken to an orphanage and then finally, the life altering transition and subsequent ambivalent reaction to being adopted by a couple (Wenham and Kidman) from Australia. After a few scenes depicting his difficulties adapting to a new family and culture, we jump forward twenty years in Saroo’s (Patel) life to 2008, where he now speaks English and is a reasonably well-adjusted adult. A chance encounter at a party brings Saroo and Lucy (Kate Mara) together and they fall madly in love. After learning about Saroo’s tragic past, Lucy introduces Saroo to a new computer application named Google Earth. With the assistance of the program’s aerial and topographical features, Saroo starts to reconstruct the ill-fated journey that took him away from his loved ones with the hopes of being able to identify his hometown. However, Lucy soon realizes that she’s created a monster when Saroo’s obsession with finding his family consumes his every waking moment and strains their relationship to the breaking point. Revealing the movie’s ending would be a tremendous disservice, but suffice it to say, Lion contains a powerhouse payoff that satisfies without being overly sentimental. The performances are pitch-perfect across the board, especially Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), who is emerging as a tremendous A-list talent. The soundtrack by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran is also very good and contains an eclectic mix of Indian flavored tunes along with beautifully intimate piano pieces. I always get a rush of elation when a movie’s meaning is preserved to the very end, like Citizen Kane’s “Rosebud.” The explanation of the movie’s title here is a tremendous emotional kicker. Be sure to stay through the ending credits for footage of the real Saroo, who wrote the book “A Long Way Home,” which was adapted for the big screen by Luke Davies. Most movies leave audiences feeling thrilled, haunted, entertained, challenged or, at best, inspired. Lion leaves its audience feeling transformed. This isn’t merely a physical or emotional journey…it’s a spiritual one. So, if you’re ready to take the trip of a lifetime, jump aboard. When I say this movie will change your life, I’m not Lion.