Toronto: 'Lion' Has Potential to Become Major Oscar Player for The Weinstein Co.

The big-screen adaptation of Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose's acclaimed book, which stars Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman, received a long and loud ovation after its Saturday premiere.
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Dev Patel in 'Lion'

Harvey Weinstein has more lives than all of Doris Day's cats combined. Just as many were beginning to count out the co-chief of The Weinstein Co. (again), he has pulled a rabbit out of his hat (again) — this time not a blockbuster from Quentin Tarantino, his frequent savior, but rather Lion, a drama that came into the Toronto International Film Festival largely under the radar.

The film, which TWC is slated to release on Nov. 25, premiered on Saturday night at the Princess of Wales Theatre and generated a prolonged ovation — standing, after the filmmakers took the stage for a post-screening Q&A. The nature of its story and reception suggests, to me, that embattled Harvey is headed back to the place where he's most at home: the Oscars.

Like many past Weinstein awards successes, Lion (a) comes from a filmmaker whose name is familiar to virtually no one, in this case Garth Davis, making his feature directorial debut; (b) is adapted from an acclaimed book, in this case Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose's A Long Way Home; (c) is a bit schmaltzy and predictable, but tugs at the heartstrings and moves many people to tears; and (d) tells a story that can be described as an important example of a social problem, in this case the disappearance of children from their families.

Lion also needed to overcome plenty in order to work. Roughly the first half of the film is in Bengali with English subtitles and features completely unknown child actors; if the Indian child actor who plays the character inhabited 25 years later by Dev Patel (hence some Slumdog Millionaire comparisons) wasn't so magnetic and capable, the film would have died early on. If Patel hadn't given perhaps his most mature big-screen performance yet, the second half wouldn't have worked. Additionally, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman make the most of every second of their small supporting parts. And the film, which begins a bit ploddingly, is never stronger than at its resolution, which is what people leave it remembering.

In short, if The Weinstein Co. can mount an effective Oscar campaign and can strategically deploy the real people who inspired the film (as it often has done in the past and as Spotlight did so effectively last season), then it might well wind up with a word-of-mouth hit that goes all the way to the Oscars. A picture nom seems well within reach, and, if everything goes Harvey's way, supporting noms for Patel and Kidman are possible, too.

The film is Lion. He is Harvey. Get ready to hear him roar.

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