Nicole M. Campbell is a KFI editrix. She watches movies more often than tea house workers cut off the crusts of little sandwiches. This week, the Girl on Film gives us her review of a movie sure to get some Oscar love, “Lion.”
When you see as many movies a year as I do (upwards of 200) there is something supremely satisfying when you know you have seen the movie you will consider the best of the year.
So it is with "Lion." The word-of-mouth on this spread early; a friend of mine had seen it at the San Diego International Film Festival and raved about it. The plot is simple enough. It's the true story of a young boy in India who gets separated from his brother at a train station, then ends up thousands of miles away. He ultimately gets adopted by a couple in Australia. As an adult, with the help of the Internet, he searches for his birth family.
Dev Patel stars as the adult Saroo. The English actor's Australian accent is as slippery as a koala climbing an oil-slicked eucalyptus tree. But he brings a quiet intensity to the role that makes him a great choice. Speaking of intense, Rooney Mara, who plays Saroo's girlfriend, was a wasted bit of casting. She's a good actress, but I didn't buy the loving, supporting, nurturing partner who encourages Saroo on his Internet journey. Mara is too sullen and sour. That's why she kicked ass as the heroine in the American film version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
Nicole Kidman plays Saroo's adoptive mother. Being Australian and having adopted two children in real life, Kidman was a natural fit. Her role is small but a nice pivot point to the confusion and loss Saroo feels.
But the real star of "Lion" is the young Indian boy who plays Saroo as a child. Sunny Pawar had never acted before, and it shows - in an absolute brilliant way. Some are comparing him to Jacob Tremblay, the boy who co-starred in one of last year's award darlings, "Room." But though Tremblay did a wonderful job, it still felt like a performance delivered by a precocious child actor. Pawar's time on screen is less affected. Perhaps the fact he speaks Hindi, not English, has something to do with it. Whatever the magic formula, he carries the first half of the film. But the whole film is mesmerizing to watch, between the heartbreaking story, the beauty of India and the powerful performances. And the final part of the epilogue caused me to catch my breath while holding back my tears.
No doubt "Lion" will be the king of the movie jungle this awards season.