LION (Australia/PG/118mins)
Directed by Garth Davis. Staring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Sunny Pawar.
THE PLOT: 25 years after he fell asleep on a decommissioned train and awoke in Calcutta, thousands of miles from home, Saroo (Dev Patel) – now living in Australia, having been adopted by an Tasmanian couple – sets out to find out just where he came from, with the hope of being reunited with the family he lost so many years before.
THE VERDICT: Based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, and adapted from his book ‘A Long Way Home’, ‘Lion’ is a heartbreaking and engrossing film, but definitely one of two halves. The first, which tells just how young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) came to be lost on the streets of Calcutta is almost silent, powerful and enlightening, but the second, where the adult Saroo sets out on an almost impossible mission to find his home using Google Earth is a lot more conventional, but no less moving.
Sunny Pawar, the young actor who plays Saroo as a child, is the heart and soul of ‘Lion’. A tiny child with huge eyes, Pawar inhabits the character of Saroo and not only makes the child likeable and gutsy, but also vulnerable and lost with ease. Dev Patel carries on the role of adult Saroo carefully, there are still touches of the lost child within the character, but he also makes Saroo confident and tenacious as he searches for his family. Nicole Kidman dials it way back as the likeable and gentle Sue Brierley, making the character very much a supporting one, Rooney Mara shows there is more to her than restraint and coldness with the warm and relatable Lucy, and David Wenham rounds out the cast as John Brierley, Saroo’s adoptive father.
The story is based on Saroo Brierley’s book ‘A Long Way Home’, but screenwriter Luke Davies – whose previous works include Candy and Life – obviously changed some details to make the story work for the screen. The choice to have the first half of the film almost silent, with very little dialogue, serves to underline how lost young Saroo is, compounded by the fact that he does not speak Bengali. Almost all of the first half of the film is told through the visual, and this allows young Saroo to be the live and relatable heart of the story; we have all been momentarily lost as children, and this first half of the film draws this out with frightening effect. The second half of ‘Lion’, as mentioned, becomes more conventional, as the adult Saroo finds himself obsessed with solving the mystery of where he came from. Still economical on dialogue, it is undeniable that the story is moving, but there are times where the second half of ‘Lion’ feels predictable and obvious as to where it is headed. It is in the last few minutes, however, that ‘Lion’ claws back the good will created in the beginning, with a moving and carefully handled finale.
Director Garth Davis has coaxed wonderfully understated performances from most of his cast, and by allowing Sunny Pawar to carry the first half of the film, makes sure that the emotion and affection created by the young actor carries through to the second half of the film. All of the cast are remarkably on form, and play characters we recognise from our own lives, making sure that this outlandish true story feels as though it could have happened to any of us. Add to this Greig Fraser’s beautiful cinematography underlines the power that the idea of home carries.
In all, ‘Lion’ lives and dies by dividing the tale into two halves; the first is engrossing, moving and utterly remarkable, before the second heads down more familiar roads. That said, ‘Lion’ contains powerful performances, unusually economical dialogue and beautiful cinematography. Even though it is clear where ‘Lion’ is headed, it is a beautiful and rewarding journey, full of thrills and hear, to go on. Oh, and keep an eye out for Sunny Pawar, he is a tiny powerhouse.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    The powerful bonds between family members, particularly when broken, form the basis of Lion. It relates the true story of Saroo Brierley, a young Indian man who lost his family and then found a new one in Australia. But the call of India and the chance to re-discover his past was never far from him…

    Five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) lives with his mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) in a remote part of rural India. Saroo and Guddu have a close brotherly relationship, playing on the train tracks and enjoying the wonders of nature together. One night, the two become separated when Saroo falls asleep on a stationary, decomissioned train. When he wakes up, he finds that the train is moving and he’s now far from home. The train eventually reaches Calcutta, where Saroo finds himself thrust into a strange, busy world and an unfamiliar language. He tries to find his way home, but his memories are sketchy. After some time has passed, he’s adopted by Australian couple John (David Wenham) and Sue (Nicole Kidman). 20 years later, we meet the now-adult Saroo (Dev Patel), who is courting Lucy (Rooney Mara). Something is troubling him though. He knows that his true family is waiting for him. With the help of Google Earth, he might just manage it. But it also means trying to find a needle in a field of haystacks…

    The feature debut of Garth Davis, Lion is one of those low-key true-life dramas that could easily be labelled as Oscar bait. However, Lion has no such obvious pretentions. It may have the backing of The Weinstein Company but this is a reflective, unassuming film that relates a simple story in an emotional and uplifting way. Adapted by Luke Davis from the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, Lion sets out to tell a remarkable story without giving easy answers along the way. Saroo’s journey from a boy into a man and from a man into a re-discovered son is a journey that is fraught with difficulties, not least the amount of time that has passed and the leaky nature of memory.

    However, Saroo’s journey of self-discovery is one worth taking. The film is strongest in its quieter moments, as Saroo becomes frustrated with his progress and looks out at the sea and lets memories of his childhood wash over him like waves. This linking of past and present becomes a way for him to find a way into the future. His future. Patel gives an under-stated performance here which is both sympathetic and emotional, as we root for him to find his way home like the salmon. Equal mention should go to Pawar, in his debut. Other films would have relegated his end of the story to maybe 20 minutes, but here he’s given half the film and carries it with ease on his young shoulders.

    Davis’ direction is straightforward and unfussy, working well with the child actors and ramming home the importance of finding a home and belonging to a family, wherever that may be. For once, Lion is a real-life drama whose outcome feels earned rather than manufactured. A very fine drama that comes recommended. ****

  • Clive Bower

    Loved this film and real contender for Oscars – check it out you will not be let down