Academy Award nominee Lion has great performances and cinematography but some of its characters lack depth, writes Daniel Armstrong.
So let’s get this out of the way early: Dev Patel’s fake Australian accent is possibly the best I have ever heard in a movie. Probably the best you have ever heard in a movie too. If anything he should win the Oscar just for that.
With Patel’s Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and the film’s nomination for Best Picture, however, I found myself wanting more from the true, heartbreaking and movie-worthy story of Saroo Brierley.
Don’t get me wrong, the story told is an emotional one, and Patel’s portrayal of a young man trying to find his long lost family is undeniably worthy of an Oscar nomination. But with that said, don’t go into this movie expecting it to be Dev Patel: The Movie. For one thing, Patel doesn’t even show up until almost an hour into the film.
This is where I believe the movie falls short. The first almost half of the film is dedicated to exploring the hardships faced by young Saroo on his accidental journey across India – making it very clear to viewers how hard it truly would be to be a homeless child in 1980s India. This in and of itself could have been expanded into a whole movie, as could the second half of the film. The second half follows an adult Saroo who is now obsessed in his mission to find his lost mother and brother, along with the friction that search creates in his relationships.
The choice to spend so long on young Saroo’s perilous journey is clearly designed to make us more sympathetic towards Patel’s older, upper-middle class Saroo, but it ends up dividing the movie in such a way that it’s hard to feel connected to any of the characters. We’re expected to believe that Saroo spent over 20 years not thinking about his biological mother, and living the good life with Nicole Kidman, only to suddenly become obsessed with finding them after realising that Google Earth has been invented.
Moving away from Saroo a bit, we’re presented with a fairly interesting family dynamic with Nicole Kidman and David Wenham playing the most convincing adoptive parents I have seen on screen in a long time (note: Daniel Armstrong has never been, and will never be, adopted. He should not be taken as any sort of authority on this matter) and their performances are both fantastic – as per usual with Kidman and with Wenham in particular being vastly underrated for this film. As for their characters, the choice to adopt again after already finding their perfect child in Saroo speaks volumes for their relationship, and the subtlety in their changed family dynamic after this choice was one of my favourite parts of this film. Unfortunately this choice brings the second least important character into the film in the form of Saroo’s adoptive brother, Mantosh, again played fantastically by Divian Ladwa.
From Mantosh’s introduction onward we see the abrupt halting of every character arc besides that of Saroo. Kidman and Wenham remain the loving yet somewhat fragile couple; Saroo’s girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara, never changes from her role as an attempted baggage handler for him; and Mantosh himself is unfortunately never shown as anything other than a burden to the rest of the family. The most disappointing part of this is that all of these actors feel wasted on characters that they don’t get to explore past one or two emotions.
To end on more of a high note, and if a lack of character depth does not bother you, all of the performances in Lion are great, even from the child actors. The cinematography is beautiful and thematically appropriate to not only the message of the film but also to the plot’s resolution – you’ll know what I mean when you see it. And besides one mismatched song in the credits the score and sound design behind Lion is wonderfully constructed and fully immersive.
Despite personally being hung up on the flaws listed above I also know that most people won’t be, but I don’t believe that even those people will remember this movie in years to come.
Lion gets a 7/10.
Feature Image and all images: Screencaps from Lion trailer via Youtube.