Imagine being a lost five-year-old, far away from home, and not sure how to get back to your family. It’s frightening to think about in the sense that anything could happen to you and each scenario that runs through your head is scarier than the last. “Lion” depicts the fear, the sense of loss, the confusion and loneliness of this scenario. Based on the book, “A Long Way From Home,” by Saroo Brierley, the film documents the author’s journey from a small town in India to Australia by way of Calcutta.
Saroo (played as a youth by Sunny Pawar) is five and always glued to his older brother, Guddu’s (Abhishek Bharate), side. They sell coal they pick off of trains in exchange for food and milk. Their mother picks rocks for a living and aside from struggling financially, they love each other immensely and Guddu especially is always looking out for his little brother. On a work run, Saroo falls asleep and wakes up to his brother gone. Looking around for him on a platform, he winds up on a train that takes him almost a thousand miles from home, dropping him in the middle of Calcutta.
Journeying through the streets and winding up in dangerous situations, Saroo (played by Dev Patel as an adult) ends up in a center where he’s eventually adopted by an Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman). Over twenty years later, he has grown up in a loving home and has gone off to college. He meets and falls in love with Lucy (Rooney Mara) and he seems content. But when a long, lost memory emerges from his past, he becomes consumed with finding his birth mother and brother and reuniting with them.
The first half of the film is superb. Director Garth Davis focuses on young Saroo’s journey through Calcutta. The myriad of events which occur are tragic, terrifying, and traumatic. He’s five and coming up against dangerous situations, helpless and scared. And newcomer Sunny Pawar as young Saroo nails these emotions so incredibly well and there is nothing but sadness and heartache as he navigates this new parent-less world he’s so suddenly thrust into.
However, it’s when the film gets to the second half and to Saroo’s adult life that it loses some of its strength. So much of Saroo’s frustration, desperation, and turmoil over trying to locate his biological family is internalized. If only there were a few scenes where Saroo got to more thoroughly express what he was feeling. Instead, a lot of the emotional triggers come by way of Dev Patel in front of a computer screen using Google Earth, which isn’t as compelling. And although Patel has immense emotional range–his anguish and trauma are clearly written all over his face–it doesn’t do too much for the audience.
Although it has its flaws, “Lion” takes the opportunity to give us the reunion we so craved from the moment Saroo was lost. The film boasts an incredible cast. From Dev Patel, who can destroy you with his emotionally transparent features, to Nicole Kidman, who embodies an understanding adoptive mother. Rooney Mara is one of the only lead characters with not much to do and this is unfortunate, but the person who really surprises is Sunny Pawar. “Lion” is memorable in the sense that it will tug at your heartstrings. The story is thorough at first, but doesn’t maintain a constant emotional balance throughout. However, its ending is so satisfying and moving that certain flaws can be overlooked.
Lion" is memorable in the sense that it will tug at your heartstrings. The story is thorough at first, but doesn't maintain a constant emotional balance throughout. However, its ending is so satisfying and moving that certain flaws can be overlooked.