Monday, 23 January 2017


Up and coming directors can only hope for a powerful story to tell through their directorial debut, but Garth Davis was one of those lucky few, transposing Saroo Brierley’s incredible story A Long Way Home into his first film, Lion.

Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is a young but precocious and adventurous child who looks up to his older brother Guddu (Abhisek Bharate). Saroo wants to work the night shifts with Guddu so he can contribute more to his family, and Guddu reluctantly lets him come along. By the time they’ve reached the train station, Saroo is exhausted and falling asleep. Guddu asks him to wait whilst he tries to find work, but Guddu doesn’t return. 

Searching the nearby trains for his brother, Saroo falls asleep again and wakes up on the travelling, empty train, many miles from wherever his home is. Lost in a faraway city and unable to point the authorities to his local town, Saroo is soon adopted by an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham). Twenty years later Saroo (Dev Patel) wants to find his family, and one of his University friends tells him about a new program, Google Earth, that might be able to help him in his search.

The biographical films that soar during Oscars season are a bit hit and miss, often too concerned with glorifying a historical personality than telling a unique, incredible story, but that’s certainly not the case with Lion. Told in a linear style - not regularly seen in the modern era of flashback obsessives - we pick up Saroo’s story just before his separation from his family and his devastating experience as a homeless sojourner. The human cost of overpopulation and a very different parental culture becomes evident when he has to spend the night sleeping with other displaced children on sheets of cardboard in the Calcutta train station and narrowly avoids abduction. A sobering passage of the film - underscored by the message of Lion’s final titled card, over 80,000 children go missing in India each year - This first half of Lion is defined by the tragic, Dickensian performance of young Sunny Pawar. Truly if ever there was a child actor deserving of an Academy Award nomination, Sunny is the one.

Saroo’s troubles take a different turn when he’s adopted by a loving Australian couple who he meets in Hobart. Before long we’ve jumped forward twenty years and the now grown-up Saroo finds himself opening up old wounds as he begins his search for his family. The film slows in pace but it’s certainly not the dramatic bottleneck that some critics claim. In many ways the second half of Lion is just as painfully engaging as the first, and if anything the conclusion could have done with more time and space to complete the story without the hint of emotional overreach that somewhat emerges. Otherwise, Lion manages its pace and linear technique in a thorough and satisfying way.

Whilst it’s difficult to meet the challenge that Pawar’s performance sets in the first half, Dev Patel still delivers what might be his best performance to date, and Kidman, who has struggled to match the quality of some of her earlier Roles in recent years, puts all of that behind her with a very strong portrayal as the patiently nurturing Sue. Rooney Mara plays Saroo’s gentle and tolerant girlfriend, Lucy, and continues to firmly cement her position as an awards season regular, whilst David Wenham does what he can with his relatively little screen time. Apart from a slightly jarring wrap-up song from Sia, the gentle and contemplative soundtrack works with the often stunning visuals to bring all of these elements together into a film worthy of its story and of the international audience attention its receiving. 

Lion could have so easily fallen into the bottomless pit of cliched Oscar-bait that we have to suffer through each year, but its writing is so engaging, its performances so enticing, and it's directing so delicate that it certainly does justice to Saroo's riveting odyssey.

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