Lion


Dev Patel contemplates the blue screen of death.

Dev Patel contemplates the blue screen of death.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Weinstein) Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, Divian Ladwa, Tanishtha Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Deepti Naval, Keshav Jadhav, Rohini Kargalya, Saroo Brierley, Sue Brierley, John Brierley, Menik Gooneratne, Madhukar Narlwade, Emilie Cocquerel. Directed by Garth Davis

 

We know who we are largely because we know where we came from. We know who raised us, who gave us life. For those who don’t know the latter, there are always questions – they are almost forced to wonder who they really are or where they came from.

Young Saroo (Pawar) lives in a small village in Hindi India with his mother (Bose) and his older brother Guddu (Bharate). They live in extreme poverty with Guddu and Saroo finding means of stealing coal and reselling it so that they can help put food on the table, particularly the delectable treats that Saroo craves. At night, Guddu goes to the train yard without Saroo who at five years old is too young although Saroo himself doesn’t think that’s true. He wheedles and he whines until Guddu finally reluctantly agrees to take him.

They get to the station and Guddu leaves Saroo on the platform while he investigates possibilities to where the two of them can find some coal. While he’s gone, Saroo gets sleepy – it’s way past his bedtime – and in a bit of a fog wanders onto a train where he can sleep more comfortably. When he wakes up, the train is moving – and the station by his home is long behind him. There is nobody else on board and nobody to hear his cries for help; the train is being relocated to Kolkata (what used to be called Calcutta). Once he gets there, he is as lost as a human being can be; he doesn’t speak Bengali, the language that is spoken there. He narrowly avoids being kidnapped by a child slave labor gang and eventually gets picked up by the authorities after days on the street.

Returning him to his home soon proves impossible; he doesn’t know the name of his village, or even the name of his mother (what five year old knows beyond “Mommy”?) and he is eventually put up for adoption. He gets lucky; a kind-hearted Australian couple – John (Wenham) and Sue (Kidman) Brierley take him into their Tasmanian home and raise him as their own, along with a second Indian orphan named Mantosh (Jadhav).

Years pass. Saroo (Patel) and Mantosh (Ladwa) have grown up; Saroo is attending university in Melbourne majoring in hotel management, while Mantosh has had a much more difficult time adjusting, becoming a drug addict and is often confrontational with his parents and adopted brother. Saroo considers John and Sue his parents and loves them with all his heart but at a party one night at the apartment of a student of Indian descent takes him back to his childhood and leads him on a quest to find his original home and family. That quest becomes something of an obsession, threatening his relationship with his girlfriend Lucy (Mara) who is supportive, and his standing at the school. He hasn’t told his adoptive parents about his mission; he fears it will break his mother’s heart. Using the then-new Google Earth on his laptop, he embarks on the seemingly hopeless task of finding his way back, but there’s no guarantee his family will even be there in the unlikely event that he does find his village – and considering how large India is and how the vast the train system, it will take years to find the right station with the right water tower if he finds it at all.

This true story, based on a book by the real Saroo Brierley (who appears at the end of the movie in footage detailing the end of his search along with his parents), is absolutely compelling and heart-warming. The first part of the movie, showing the five-year-old Saroo’s journey, has little dialogue and beautiful images – the very first scene in the film depicts young Saroo surrounded by butterflies. The countryside of rural India is juxtaposed with the urban squalor of Kolkata and makes for essential cinema. Part of the reason for this is Sunny Pawar who provides a sensational performance. He acts with his face, with his eyes – something you really can’t teach – unlike a lot of child actors who try too hard to act and ultimately come off as inauthentic. Pawar is nothing but authentic.

Patel is similarly sensational, having garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor and is likely to receive serious Oscar consideration. This is nothing short of a star-making performance; the young actor has given notice that he can ascend to the next level and is in fact likely to. Saroo isn’t always pleasant in the movie; like many obsessed people, he sacrifices current relationships and dreams to scratch that itch. Basically though he is a character we root for even when he’s shutting his supporting girlfriend out.

Kidman, who chooses to play the part of Sue without glamour, is also likely to receive Supporting Actress consideration for the upcoming Oscars. It’s the kind of performance that makes you wish she was getting more screen time – there’s a scene where she confesses her fears to Saroo that is absolutely mesmerizing. She’s gone from being one of the most beautiful women in the world to a talented actress who has compiled an enviable record of mind-blowing performances. She’s become an actress whose movies I look forward to no matter what the subject.

The movie succeeds on nearly every level even though it does kind of lose its way in the middle a little bit. The ending, even though you can predict what’s coming, will absolutely floor you and to be honest there’s a component of the ending that will bring tears to your eyes in an absolute gangbuster of an emotional payoff. I can’t recommend this movie enough.

REASONS TO GO: The story packs an emotional wallop and the payoff at the end is considerable. Patel, Kidman and Ladwa give terrific performances. Sunny Pawar gives a surprisingly powerful performance amid some wonderful cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: The film drags a little bit in the middle third.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the events may be a little rough for sensitive children to watch; there’s also a bit of sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Lucy character played by Rooney Mara is not based on a specific person but is rather an amalgam of Saroo’s real life girlfriends during the period covered by the movie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/20/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Warchild
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Assassin’s Creed

In Her Skin (I Am You)


In Your Skin

Ruth Bradley literally leads Kate Bell down the garden path.

(2009) True Crime Drama (IFC) Guy Pearce, Miranda Otto, Ruth Bradley, Sam Neill, Kate Bell, Khan Chittenden, Graeme Blundell, John Butler, Justine Clarke, Diane Craig, Jack Finsterer, Rebecca Gibney, Eugene Gilfedder, Jeremy Sims, Steven Vidler. Directed by Simone North

 

Very few of us are genuinely happy with who we are. Some of us long to change certain things about ourselves, be it our physical appearance or our own natures. Sometimes this self-loathing leads to a hatred for everyone who at least on the surface appears to have everything we want.

Rachel Barber (Bell) is one of those that looks to have everything anyone could want. Beautiful and graceful, training to become a ballet dancer who one day will dance for a world class company, happy and well-adjusted, she has parents (Pearce, Otto) who adore her and a handsome boyfriend named Manni (Chittenden) who is head over heels for her.

Caroline Reid (Bradley), who was once Rachel’s babysitter, is in the other class. She isn’t conventionally pretty, struggles with her weight, and has less of a bright future before her. Her parents’ divorce really affected her deeply and from that arose anger issues that have given her a hair-trigger temper, prone to rages that are truly terrifying. Her father (Neill) is wealthy and distant, tending to be more critical than loving although he does love her in his own way.

When Rachel fails to return home after dance practice, her parents are alarmed. This just isn’t like their daughter at all. The police seem disinterested in finding their girl; they chalk it up as a runaway situation, which mystifies Manni who tells her everything but didn’t tell her that she had any idea about running off. Even Caroline, surly at best, expresses concern. The Barbers, desperate to find their daughter, decide to search on their own with the police scarcely willing to help.

Tragically, the Barbers are searching in vain. Their dearest Rachel is already gone, brutally murdered at the hands of her trusted friend and former babysitter Caroline. The deed was done as part of a twisted, psychotic attempt of Caroline to transform herself into Rachel, the only way the girl thought she had of ever having the things she wanted.

The movie is told from three differing points of view; that of the Barbers, of Caroline and of Rachel herself. North, in an attempt I suppose to take some artistic license, jumps wildly between time frames which is often confusing. Still, North gets the benefit of some riveting performances.

Bradley, an Irish actress, was someone I hadn’t seen much of (if anything) prior to this film but she nails the role. You feel like you as a viewer are walking on eggshells every time Caroline is onscreen; she can be sweetness and light but can explode into a volcanic eruption of rage without warning or cause. Her self-loathing is palpable as is her need for her father’s acknowledgment, something she can never get – the way she wants, in any case. You never really understand the motives, but then you can’t really understand crazy unless you are a lunatic yourself.

Pearce and Otto are two of the most dependable actors working today and as the parents their grief and worry consume them, sometimes leading to conflict between their characters. They are both sympathetic but imperfect adding a touch of realism to the film. It isn’t always easy to watch them, but it never feels anything but genuine.

Speaking of realism and genuine, the murder scene is quite horrific and very tough to watch. It doesn’t pull any punches and there’s nothing about it that is clean or easy. I very much suggest that those who are easily upset by those sorts of things to think twice before viewing.

This is definitely a flawed film but it is still quite good nevertheless. North excels at keeping a sense of tension even when it is obvious what is about to occur or what has already occurred. For those of us in America who are mostly unfamiliar with the case (it was front page news in Oz so Aussie readers may be far more familiar with the events in the film than us Yanks) there is an element of suspense that is well-appreciated. Like the Barbers, North doesn’t always do the right thing here but she does her best and even if she makes mistakes they are at least honest ones. She has a good deal of talent and I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for her.

WHY RENT THIS: Extremely well-acted. Tense and suspenseful, even though it is pretty obvious even to those unfamiliar with the case how it’s going to end up. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Time jumping confuses the viewer unnecessarily. Tries too hard in places.

FAMILY VALUES: The movie is intense in places and the murder scene might be too much for the sensitive. There’s also a few instances of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bell and Chittenden, girlfriend and boyfriend in the film, also played girlfriend and boyfriend in the Australian TV series “Blue Water High.”

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are some cast interviews that get highly emotional.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Data not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Taking Lives

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Instinct