I like what happened tonight in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre: all bets are off now for the Oscars as there is a surprise entry. Garth Davis’s magnificent “Lion” roared to life at its first screening anywhere and absolutely killed it. Applause began the minute the movie ended, there was cheering, and a real standing ovation.
This last out of left field upheaval came courtesy of Harvey Weinstein, who has been in a slump since “The Imitation Game.” He has needed a hit for some time, and tonight he brought it. “Lion” has a good pedigree– it comes from the producers of “The King’s Speech.” They know what they’re doing. So does Davis, an Aussie, who worked for some time with Nicole Kidman to get this right. And she is so good that I predict an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and maybe a win.
The star of the movie, set in India, is Dev Patel, also the star of “Slumdog Millionaire.” As Saroo Brierly, a real life Indian man who disappeared in 1986 from his home at age 5, was moved to an adoptive family in Australia, and wasn’t reunited with his mother for 25 years, Patel is stunning. This actor is a man now. Gone is the chattering boy from “Best Exotic Hotel” and HBO’s “The Newsroom” with a lot of endearing tics. Patel is the real thing now.
Saroo is played by a real five year old, however, for the amazing first third of the film. Sunny Pawar is the child star of the year, the Jacob Tremblay of 2016. Because he is so charming and honest, Davis is able to shape a foundation for “Lion” that resonates right through to the end. When Patel is introduced as adult Saroo, and Rooney Mara is added as his girlfriend, the story goes from fanciful and bleak to real. Saroo, raised by adoptive parents played by Kidman and David Wenham, realizes he must find his birth home if he’s going to be not “lost” anymore.
Yes, “Lion” is what they call a three hankie operation. You may actually need a box of tissues. No one in the audience gets out alive. You will hear sobbing in your theater. In many ways, the story of Saroo parallels the one from “The Color Purple.” Saroo’s one objective is to be reunited with his mother and brother. His journey is memorable.
Kidman is just sensational as his adoptive mother. And I’m telling you now, she has a speech toward the end that will make Oscar voters turn cartwheels it’s so good. Kidman draws on what we know of her real life and it’s wrenching. She also looks the best she has in any film in years.
So open the cage. “Lion” jumps into the fray that already includes Birth of a Nation, La La land, Snowden, Nocturnal Animals, Fences and many many more. Oscar season has now begun!