Showy films have dominated this year’s awards season. But if past years are anything to go by, upsets in the best picture category are just as common as clean sweeps. In that regard, the inspiring, heart-wrenching true story “Lion” may just be the contender to watch for.
“Lion” tells the incredible real-life tale of Saroo Brierley, who, as a child in India, is separated from his family, survives slums and orphanages in Calcutta and is eventually adopted by a loving Australian family. As an adult, Saroo becomes consumed with finding his long-lost family and uses Google Earth (and some mighty impressive detective skills) to track them down.
“Lion” benefits from powerful performances, the kind built for prestigious awards. Dev Patel recently won a BAFTA (the British Oscar) for his turn as the grown Saroo. Patel, who is up for a supporting actor Oscar, excels at communicating his character’s journey, from a young man who seems unsure of himself to an adult who understands his unshakable bond with two separate worlds. Young Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child, is also a heart-breaker, with a bright personality and soulful eyes.
Nicole Kidman has also picked up several well-earned nominations (including the Academy Award) for best supporting actress, in her role as Saroo’s adoptive mother, Sue Brierley. Kidman’s Sue radiates motherly compassion and patience, traits frequently tested during the course of the story.
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“Lion” is based on a true story — a category Oscar often smiles upon. Let’s not forget that just last year, “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s exposure of child abuse in the Catholic Church, was the surprise best picture winner over “The Revenant.” “Lion” also shares a setting and star (Patel) with 2009’s best picture champion “Slumdog Millionaire.”
The movie’s messages are thoughtfully and honestly communicated — particularly the idea that “home” can mean more than any one place, person or even culture. “Lion” also uses technology in a pivotal role, showing the ways that revolutionary platforms, like Google Earth, can literally bring us together, not just isolate. With the combative state of internet culture these days, that’s a refreshing sentiment.
While “Lion” may not boast the dazzling Hollywood magic or indie-darling pedigree of some of its competitors, it contains all the hallmarks of an award winner — one that’s not nearly as out-of-left-field as it might seem.
Abby Olcese is a freelance writer and film critic. Follow her on Twitter at @indieabby88.