Five year old Saroo Brierley gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of kilometers across India, away from home and family. Lion follows Saroo as he wanders through the Calcutta nights before being taken into an orphanage, and eventually being adopted by a family in Australia. This harrowing true story emphasizes the isolation and disconnect Saroo has to overcome from his time as a young boy to a 25 year old while still providing a few courageous moments. The riveting first and third act are enough to overcome a dreary, ordinary second act which sees the film start to sputter as the conflicted man begins to remember his troublesome past.
First time director Garth Davis handles the subject matter delicately while showing the resiliency and determination of Saroo at different times in his life. Thanks to the work of cinematographer Greig Fraser, Davis is able to give character to India and Australia, while showing a contrast between the two. From the moment we’re introduced to Brierley we sympathize for him as we are engulfed into the world he is now living in. Lion begins to suffer when the film shifts to adult Saroo, soon changing tones of the film and becoming a little more melodramatic. The movie meanders for about 30 minutes, with many scenes similar to the one prior. Lion reestablishes itself and comes to a more than satisfying conclusion that will leave moviegoers with a lump in their throat and a smile on their face.
So much of Lion depends on the cast they assemble and led by newcomer Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel they’re both able to deliver nuanced portrayals of Saroo Brierley. Much like Jacob Tremblay of Room last year, Sunny Pawar is stealing the hearts this award season thanks to his performance. His work in this is transcendent as he captivates audiences from the opening scene in which Saroo and his brother Guddu steal coal on top of a moving train. Dev Patel does career best work as the older Saroo who is haunted by the past that he never had. Tormented by the idea of his family in India still looking for him, Saroo begins a one in a million search for the childhood he lost.
Rooney Mara plays his on-again off-again girlfriend and offers a subtle performance which features a few great scenes between the two of them. Nicole Kidman takes on a couple of non-glamorous hairstyles as Saroo’s adopted mother and gives a heartbreaking performance as she gives the viewer a different perspective. The scenes between Kidman and Patel are without a doubt the best of the film as they’re pure and offer a significant glimpse into their own struggles. The ensemble in Lion elevates the film to new heights and makes it a worthwhile watch.
With it’s synopsis Lion had potential to come off as pure Oscar bait but instead reaches its potential thanks to Garth Davis and the cast. Despite it suffering from a thin second act, Lion is able to find momentum and carry it to the end of the film. Both the first and third act display a reality in which a boy or man is lost and trying to find his way home. Able to make you weep and cheer in the matter of a few scenes, Davis nurtures the story and captures the different atmospheres of India and Australia. Led by Pawar, Patel and Kidman, Lion is an uplifting story which features a brave lead character going on a quest to find his true identity.