Based on a true story (well, it is Oscar season . . .), Lion is about five year old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) who falls asleep on a train that takes him 1600 kilometres across India to Calcutta. Unable to speak the native Bengali or properly tell someone where his home is, he is eventually adopted by Australian couple John and Sue (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) and twenty years onwards (played by Dev Patel for the final section of the film), he finds himself compelled to finally find his home and to be reunited with his mother and older brother.
It was surprising to hear that Lion is based on a true story and for the most part, it is engaging, interesting and heartfelt; we constantly sympathise with the central lost child and it is ultimately satisfying to see him adopted by such caring people. Much of the early scenes are very reminiscent of Salaam Bombay!; both films have a certain focus on the poverty that can be found in certain areas of India and they both find their central characters in an orphanage, a “bad place” as the characters say.
The most fascinating part of the film was Saroo’s adopted mother telling him that, although they were perfectly able to have children of their own, both she and her husband chose to adopt, to help two children who were in need rather than add to the world’s growing population. Personally, this part got me thinking quite a bit and agreed that it was a very smart, compassionate thing to do, all the more thankful that Sue Brierley is a real person. And on a similar note, the real life footage of the actual people this film was based on was excellently used and it was important to remind the audience that Lion is indeed based on a true story.
The performances in this film are good; Sunny Pawar (impossibly cute) effortlessly holds our attention for the first half of the film, he is a very impressive young actor and it is so easy to care about him throughout. And Dev Patel (impossibly handsome) is a charismatic enough actor to lead the second half of the film, effectively showing us Saroo’s inner turmoil and desperation. In addition, Rooney Mara does as well as she can with an ultimately thankless role, David Wenham and Nicole Kidman (initially looking like they’ve stepped straight out of Neighbours) are good as Saroo’s adopted parents and it was also a surprise to see Divian Ladwa in a much talked about film like this, having done so well in the BBC series Detectorists.
The cinematography, especially during the scenes set in India, is impressive, much of the film indeed looks astonishing, and the score is also appropriately rousing. Plus, it was wonderful to hear the magnificent Sia over the end credits (though ashamedly, I thought it was Rihanna!)
However the film does start to get a bit tiresome and repetitive as it heads into the final act; interest definitely wanes as the film starts to tread familiar ground and much of the action simply involves Dev Patel walking around, looking at Google Earth, putting pins on a wall, walking around again, looking out of windows, sitting down, seeing the “ghost” of his brother getting back up and so on! The second half runs out of steam, the dialogue isn’t that great and pacing becomes much more of an issue.
An interesting, heartfelt story brought to life by some good performances, though with an uncertain, meandering second half.
★ ★ ★