Release date: 20th January 2017/Watch the trailer here
Lion is based on the book A Long Way Home, which tells the incredible true story of the author, Saroo Brierley, who set out to find his lost family in India twenty-five years after being adopted by an Australian couple. The film, directed by Garth Davis, spends its first hour in India, where a young Saroo is played by an extraordinary eight-year-old newcomer, Sunny Pawar. Pawar was unable to speak English at the time of filming, but his eyes say it all: through them, we witness the terrible experience that Saroo suffered, on a train that carried him to Calcutta, thousands of miles away from the tiny village that was once his home.
Eventually, after escaping numerous horrific ordeals, Saroo finds himself in a Calcutta orphanage. With no one knowing where he came from (and Saroo later finds out that he had been pronouncing the name of his village incorrectly all along) and the only name he has for his mother being ‘Mum’, the search for his family is abandoned and Saroo is adopted by a family from Australia, John (David Wenham) and Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman).
Twenty years later, and Saroo is now played by Dev Patel and obsessed with finding where he came from. This was in the early days of Google Earth, and he attempts to use it to no avail, only knowing that he was on the train to Calcutta for days and that the station where he last saw his brother had a water tower nearby. Patel also gives an excellent performance, but the leap between a young Saroo, adjusting to his new life in Tasmania, and an adult Saroo, preoccupied with his need to find his family, is too sudden and jarring. It would have been nice if longer could have been spent on Saroo’s childhood, since the part of the film that focuses on his many long and arduous Google Earth searches is far less compelling. As it is, Saroo’s troubled adopted brother, Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), is largely glossed over, his relationship with Saroo never really developed, presumably only featured in the film to highlight that not all adopted children have success stories.
This is undoubtedly Saroo’s story and it’s only right that this is his film but, like Mantosh, a lot of the other supporting characters end up being swept aside. Saroo’s girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara), feels like not much more than an afterthought, a tacked-on love interest who does little to help Saroo with his search. Even his parents get very little screen time in comparison, and Kidman struggles to make her performance stand out without descending into moments of melodrama.
Lion is a film that maybe calls for a touch of the melodramatic at times, however. It’s an undeniably powerful, moving story, and any tears that come towards the end feel like they have been well-earned, largely in part due to the two wonderful actors who brought Saroo to the screen.