-A scattered but immensely acted awards-season biopic and a moving true story about an adopted man trying to find home.
Natalie Portman is about to win her 2nd Oscar and you can take it to the bank in a year where she faces no legitimate challengers after I watched her two hour, tour de force performance as Jackie Kennedy both during and after the assassination of her husband. Although some of the outside dramatic elements are supporting performances are not that important, the main performance is enough to recommend this film on its own, a clinic in acting complex emotions spanned over a non-linear screenplay.
The film shows a few different short moments in the moments leading up to, during, and after JFK’s assassination. Much of the film is their work in the White House, with her giving the tour to take the average person inside the historic building. Then, we see the moments leading up to that fateful car ride, alongside her trusted assistant (Greta Gerwig), and the fallout after. Finally, we see her conversing with her priest (John Hurt) and giving an interview with a reporter (Billy Crudup) for Time Magazine. Peter Sarsgaard also makes an appearance as Bobby Kennedy.
In addition to Portman’s excellent performance, which shows her behind the scenes of her marriage to JFK, we get a very interesting group of scenes that show how she changed the concept of being a first lady. We’re slightly ingrained into the politics, but we mostly just see the world through her eyes and marvel at how transcendent of a figure she was. A few shots showing how she changed fashion are included in very nicely and subtly to showcase her influence.
The scenes of the White Horse tour are nice, relying on Portman’s ability to capture Jackie’s charisma, while the fallout and more emotional sets show a confused, hurt, and overwhelmed Jackie as she works through the months after her life was changed. The interview with Billy Crudup is very indulgent on how she was very much about keeping her image clean and wanted to have the aura of a politician in her own right. There’s power and resolve to Portman’s performance, and it’s worthy of getting her the awards recognition. The rest of the movie just tries to keep up.
Director: Pablo Larrain (Neruda, No, The Club, Tony Manero, Post Mortem)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, and Greta Gerwig
RT Score: 87%
Lion is one of the most emotionally moving films of the year. Upon seeing that it was nominated for the Best Picture-Drama category at the Golden Globes, I (correctly) assumed that its Oscar buzz after TIFF had continued. Any movie that has the kind of buzz that this one had is worth a viewing, so don’t let the trailers dissuade you: it’s one of the best films of the year.
While the film is a bit fractured, split in half between the youth and adulthood of our central character, Saroo, the film manages to connect these separate story-lines into something special due to the work of the two actors who portray Saroo in his times of crisis. When we’re first introduced to him as a young boy (played by Sunny Pawar), he tags along with his brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), stealing rocks/minerals to help buy food and milk for his family, who live in a poor outlet in central India. That night, Guddu goes to do “night work” with some other people by the trains and urges Saroo to stay home, stating that he’s too young to do some of the heavy lifting. That night, Saroo boards the wrong train after Guddu goes missing and is taking to the opposite side of India where everyone speaks Bengali instead of his native Hindi that Saroo is familiar with. Once there, Saroo is ignored entirely by the locals (missing children are very commonly displaced and living on the streets), and lives for a few months as a homeless drifter. He occasionally has his sights at potential rescue, but the potential saviors are all just trying to use him to meet a monetary goal.
One day, Saroo is found by a more progressive teenager, and Saroo is taken to a shelter with other boys and girls with similar situations. Although he cannot communicate his hometown, he does eventually have interest from two adoptive parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) who take Saroo out of India and raise him as their own in Australia. Saroo forgets much of his heritage for a long time, raised and educated in Tasmania. Now as an adult (played by Dev Patel), he moves to Melbourne to study hotel management and meets a girl named Lucy (Rooney Mara), and they quickly start a relationship. However, during this time, questions about his past eat away at Saroo, and he knows he must use a combination of technology and his memories to try to find his original home and bridge the two separate parts of his life.
The film, overall, is immensely touching and wonderfully acted, especially by Patel, Kidman, and Rooney Mara, all three of them turning in some of the best performances of their careers. The struggle of heritage and finding oneself can be, at least in part, a common theme in films, but there’s something special about a misplaced child trying to connect the dots in his life. Scenes of him plotting on maps and using Google Earth could be boring, or overly melodramatic, but it never feels that way. Part of how it earns its style comes from how well Sunny Pawar acts as young Saroo. He carries the film, as the lead, for the first forty-five minutes to an hour, and if more awards shows gave out “best young performer” consideration, he would be my pick. Then, Dev Patel completely works as an Australian, English-speaking native who is ‘Indian’ in name-only. He does not remember much of what the traditions are, yet, he craves to connect his past with his present. Rooney Mara does such an excellent job as a sturdy, supporting figure in his life, as does Nicole Kidman. The backdrop of a family taking in these hardened children is really lovely, and says so much about their character before we even really meet them.
The locations and environments are awesome, showcasing the difference between an impoverished Indian neighborhood with Australian cities, no wonder Saroo feels such a disconnect in his upbringing. Overall, this is an excellent movie, and I don’t really have any criticisms. It’s really emotional, many in the theater were crying, and it’s also really interesting and powerful in a non-conventional way.
Director: Garth Davis (X)
Starring: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, and Abhishek Bharate
RT Score: 87%