*I realize there are a plethora of December movies to review. This was just the first one I saw. More reviews will come out as they expand to wider releases. In any case, the Top 10 list will be posted by January 31st.*
So I have heard for a while now that a film about Google Earth has the ability to leave grown men bawling in the movie theater. Come to find out that even in the year 2016, the world can still surprise you. This critically-acclaimed emotional drama from director Garth Davis premiered November 25th, 2016, earning back just under $10 million as of New Years weekend. Don’t let the trailer fool you; this ain’t your typical, generic biopic that studios churn out every year. Based on the novel A Long Way Home, Lion tells the amazing true story of Saroo Brierley, a Lost Boy from India. In 1986, after falling asleep on an empty train car, he gets lost in the city of Calcutta before getting adopted by an Australian couple, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham, respectively. 25 years later, adult Saroo still wonders about his real family’s whereabouts and discovers a brand new software program: Google Earth. And so he goes on a trip down Memory Lane, using this application to locate his biological family in India. That premise already sounds fantastic and is the primary reason I went to see it. However, the execution of the narrative is so brilliant and engrossing, you feel as though you are in the Jewel of Southeast Asia. Dev Patel plays the adult version of Saroo, and I cannot think of a better actor to play the part than him. Although his career has been relatively low-key since the release of Slumdog Millionaire, this is the movie that will get him more high profile attention. He plays a convincing young man who is just out of touch with his home and his family, desperately wanting to reconnect by any means necessary. Nicole Kidman really brings it as Saroo’s adoptive mother, who is desperately trying to keep her family strung together in the wake of Saroo’s discovery. There’s been buzz about her getting a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars later this month. When you watch it, it’s hard to tell who the better actor: her or Patel. Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka come together to give a great musical score to accompany the emotional tone of the movie. Though no particular track stand out in my head, it’s minimalist production of violins and piano melodies find the right balance between Western music and Bollywood music. Pop star Sia brings an original song to the table with her tune, “Never Give Up,” and after just one listen, you won’t want Saroo to do so. That and the movie looks absolutely gorgeous. Following up on his amazing work in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Grieg Fraser’s cinematography makes Australia and rural India look beautiful. Wide, birds-eye view shots of the big landscapes are contrasted well by intensely personal close-ups. In fact, I dare say that natural lighting was used for a few scenes, in the same vein as The Revenant. It seems crazy to think that this story really happened a few years ago, but it did and that alone is incredible. So many emotions swirl through the air as you watch this movie; hope, and despair, joy and sadness. It’s my personal opinion that the primary goal of Lion was to infuriate audiences at how often children in India go missing so that they may do something about it. In fact, at the very end of the movie, a text comes up on the screen explaining how 80,000 Indian boys and girls are lost every year. I would strongly encourage anyone who sees this movie to make a difference about that. And yeah, by the end of this movie, straight-up man tears. In case you didn’t catch it in the intro, this movie made me cry. It’ll make you cry as well, no matter how tough you say you are. If some people don’t at least WANT to cry by the time the story wraps up after 118 minutes, I feel bad for your robot state. In short, Lion is a super emotional ride of a true story. Not afraid to touch on themes of love, home, and finding your place in the world, this is one of the better made biopics I’ve seen in a while.