Dev Patel receive his first Oscar nomination for portraying Saroo Brierley in Lion.
Dev Patel in the past has not been a favorite actor of mine, finding he has the tendency to be both over the top yet somehow bland at the same time. I will say though in 2016 I found his first halfway decent performance in The Man Who Knew Infinity, so I guess this is now the upswing in his acting. Dev Patel here once again plays the lead role of an Indian without a home, after doing the same in his breakout role in Slumdog Millionaire, luckily his performance here is much better. This is a lead performance, even more so than his turn in that earlier similair film, as we see the younger Saroo, played by Sunny Pawar for one half of the film, and then we shift to Patel for the rest of the film, he's not supporting anyone. With that out of the way though let's actually look at the performance itself. Dev Patel picks up with Saroo 20 years after his adoption by the Australians Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierley, and is essentially living his life rather well having become quite comfortable with his new found home and parents.
I suppose it should be said that from now on Patel should only do Australian accent, wear his hair long, and keep his facial hair growing because of all it suits him very very well. I don't know if it had anything to do with any of that, but this easily his best performance. Now in his early scenes the film is pretty low key in just showing how Saroo's life is at this point. Patel has some very sweet and authentic chemistry with Wenham and especially Kidman. You really feel the love they share which is in no way compromised, and just have the genuine rapport of a real family. There is a complication though with his troubled adopted brother, Mantosh. Although on the whole I felt that character seemed like an underdeveloped aspect of the film, Patel though deserves credit for realizing the troubled past in Saroo's interactions Mantosh. Patel brings kind of this underlying understanding, suggesting their time together, yet still effectively brings the right current of frustrations in disapproving glances, and sharpened words towards him.
Saroo's life though is shown to be a relatively easy one as we continue to follow him including a romance with an American Lisa (Rooney Mara). The two have more than decent chemistry as well, to Patel's credit he has a low key charm in him, although I will say Rooney Mara never seems quite right in the role of a normal love interest. Saroo begins to run into more people from India though which reminds him of the family he lost, this sets him on a path to try to locate he where he was lost from. This creates a certain conflict as he begins to focus on the past which makes him forget about his future to an extent. This conflict is what defines Saroo during the later portion of the film, and Patel does a good job of realizing this in a natural way. Patel manages to internalize much of the pain of these thoughts in an intensity that grows within Saroo, which causes him to ignore and lash out at his loved ones to a degree. Patel makes these scenes feel honest by showing the way the unknown of his past is a burden he just cannot bear any longer. This is even satiated partially by his adoptive parents being fully supportive of his quest once they hear about it. Saroo though finally leaves to personally find them, after having located the approximate area on Google Earth. Saroo reaches there and is reunited with his mother. I have to say the scene got me, I'll admit it. Patel's work contributes greatly to the emotional resonance of the scene as he captures the joy upon seeing his mother, but also the heartbreak of it all particularly when he learns that his brother died long ago. It's a poignant heartfelt moment and Patel is there for every second of it. Patel is there for the whole half of his film though. This is a good leading turn by him in a fairly understated way. Patel though succeeds in never mistaking that for blandness, nor does he try, through unneeded quirks, to "liven things up". Patel does so well by simply giving an authentic and moving portrayal of a normal man recovering what was lost to him.