‘Lion’ MOVIE REVIEW: Strong Direction & Performances Capture a Powerful True Story

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Image via Transmission Films
Image via Transmission Films

Written by Caitlin Rudd.

Lion is the magnificent portrayal of Saroo Brierley, separated from his family in India in 1987 and eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham). It is a story about family, determination and the complex nature of identity, executed with heart and poignancy by first-time feature film director, Garth Davis.

The first section of Lion is undeniably the most captivating, with Sunny Pawar making his debut performance as young Saroo, outshining even the internationally acclaimed Dev Patel, who plays the boy 25 years on. On a quest to find work with his older brother, Guddu, the two become separated, Saroo ending up 1600kms away from home after riding the trains all night. Before eventually being placed in an overcrowded orphanage, young Saroo attempts to navigate his way through some of the most remote and impoverished areas of India on his own, which is at times heart wrenching to watch.

The diminutive size of young Saroo against the sheer masses of people at Kolkata train station makes the harrowing hopelessness of the situation set in and we begin to see Saroo’s mounting desperation. Pawar is captivating and undeniably adorable, multiplying the audience’s concern for his wellbeing, as we witness a series of near misses and chilling encounters with shady characters looking to exploit the young lost Saroo. Davis’ excellent direction and Greig Fraser’s (Rogue One, Zero Dark Thirty) stunning cinematography, together with Pawar’s natural screen presence and superb performance, makes for a deeply gripping introduction to this incredible true story.

Lion does an excellent job at raising a variety of weighty issues throughout: poverty, adoption, exploitation and most powerfully, identity. After being adopted by an Australian couple, the film jumps forward 25 years and we meet an older Saroo (Dev Patel) with a new life in scenic Tasmania and his devoted adopted parents Sue and John, living a life that presents a stark contrast to his previous surrounds in India.

Image via Transmission Films
Image via Transmission Films

Dev Patel thrives in this role as a twenty-something young man grappling with the regular confusion of ‘finding himself’ and the added layer of being adopted. Deeply committed to the role, the London-born actor is thoroughly convincing as a young Australian being pulled in many directions; an insatiable desire to find his birth mother and an incredible sense of gratitude for his adopted mother. As Sue, Kidman gives a stunning and emotionally charged performance worthy of the current Oscar buzz.

Upon discovering Google Earth, Saroo decides to piece together his fragmented memories of the night he became lost in the hope of tracking down his old home. Naturally, there is a change in pace with such a large time jump in the film. Much of this portion of Lion is a restless Saroo becoming obsessed with the impossible task of finding home; scenes that emphasize the lengths he goes to in order to find the pinprick that was his hometown on a world map. Whilst remarkable and vital to the story, realistically this portion of the film proves quite monotonous, however Davis does capture Saroo’s frustration with technology, his own vague memories and the uncertainty of his situation.

Lion is a film about human connection and perseverance, touching on the whole spectrum of humanity, from the exceptionally good to the gravely bad. With stunning performances by Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, this impeccable cast successfully portrays the unthinkable reality that was faced by Saroo and his family, and then some. The film builds up to a highly emotional climax, and does not disappoint. Lion is a story with heart and reveals that the distance between continents is measured in more than just kilometres.

SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★