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Lion: An accidental journey to finding oneself

Dev Patel in a still from 'Lion' film, Photo Date: 2016 (Long Way Home Productions / MGN)

5 Stars (out of 5)

British actor Dev Patel has built himself quite an impressive filmography. His first introduction to mainstream American movie audiences came in 2008. He starred as 18-year-old Jamal Malik, from the slums of Mumbai in Danny Boyle's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 2009 and won eight -- including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

He was next praised for his role as Sonny Kapoor in THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2012). The consistent positive reviews continued as he next played Neal Sampat in the 25-episode HBO television series THE NEWSROOM (2012-2014).

Which leads us to today, and the extraordinary new film, LION -- in my opinion, one of the five "Best Pictures of 2016". I am hoping that LION will have multiple Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Musical Score. Dev Patel is also richly deserving an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. And Nicole Kidman has an outside chance of being nominated for Best Supporting Actress. LION is Directed by Garth Davis, in his feature film directing debut. The musical score comes from Hauschka and Dustin O'Halloran.

LION has a richly layered screenplay with multiple themes. Credit Saroo Brierley, Larry Buttrose, and Luke Davies. It is actually a true story that unfolds very slowly.

Yet, while simple in storytelling with a minimal amount of dialogue, it is both intimate and powerful. It is truly a great film.

In a country as populated and poor as India, we have an emotional story of survival and rescue. At the age of 5, young Saroo Brierley follows his older brother to a railroad station and accidentally boards an out-of-service train. He is lost, does not know how to find his brother. He is trapped inside an empty passenger train that travels more than a thousand miles away from his village. Welcome to Calcutta, a city of strangers who speak a different language.

I mentioned that LION is richly textured. In between his disappearance and 20 years later beginning his obsessive search for his birth family, Saroo is adopted and brought to live in Australia with a young couple. The role of the Australian mother is played by Nicole Kidman. This is one of her finest performances ever.

Saroo as a little boy is played by Sunny Pawar. His performance is devastating and if I was running the Academy, he would be presented with an honorary Oscar.

Somehow although small and vulnerable -- he is also resourceful and heroic. Saroo's mother -- a laborer in a poor village, is played by Priyanka Biose. Saroo's beloved older brother Guddu, is played by Abhishek Bharate.

The impact of this film rings true as we learn that there are tens of thousands of homeless children in India. In fact, there are over 80,000 children who go missing in India every year. Saroo's journey takes us into this world of homeless children, revealing the fear and utter hopelessness experienced by these children.

It is also a story about second chances. And eventually, Saroo ends his relationship with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), quits his job, and alienates his adopted parents and adopted step-brother (Divian Ladwa).

Thus, it is also a story about separation and guilt. The pain Saroo must have caused his birth family who must have tried to find him. He becomes haunted, which comes to a climax thanks to Google Earth. It is truly an accidental journey to finding oneself.

NEXT WEEK:

Also in theaters now is the excellent FENCES. Full review coming next week.

COMING ATTRACTIONS:

Coming in the weeks ahead, full reviews of the last of the best 2016 films, including:

A MONSTER CALLS

HIDDEN FIGURES

SILENCE

20TH CENTURY WOMEN

The 2017 Oscar nominations will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017.

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