A genuinely touching and involving tale about family, based on a true story.
Lion begins with two young brothers, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and Guddu, who seek out odd jobs in order to help their mother fund their family home, but one day the two are separated and Saroo winds up lost in Calcutta, with no way of finding his way back. He’s eventually adopted by an Australian family and goes to live with them. However, 25 years later (now played by Dev Patel) Saroo is determined to find his way back to his mother, brother and sister with the use of Google Earth to track down the route he had mistakenly taken all those years ago.
The film feels very much in two different parts. When Saroo initially goes missing there are a lot of nightmarish qualities, everything is louder, scarier, busier. It’s a reflection of how the young boy is finding his unfortunate circumstance intimidating and it does well to bring us into his world. The panic and fear definitely creates an impression on the audience as this scared, young boy manages to evade many dangers that come his way.
The script itself, written by Luke Davies, doesn’t sway from Saroo’s own point of view throughout the many days, months and years which forms a bond with the character as we genuinely hope he will find his family again. It’s much more affecting this way.
The script was adapted from a 2012 memoir of Saroo’s titled “A Long Way Home” and this realism is certainly brought to the film, which helps makes it so impactful. It’s not full of action all the way through, instead it’s just very real and content with telling it’s story.
This can cause some to lose interest, but it suits the subject matter of the film to be created in such a way. It isn’t an intense high-action escapism film, it’s just trying to tell a real story about family and hope.
But the middle of the film is where the story loses traction. Saroo begins to look for his family in a soul-searching sequence which feels as though it’s dragged out for far too long. Also, the drama and intensity of Saroo trying to find his route back home is mainly limited to a computer screen on Google Earth, that’s not to say that at times it isn’t effective and in fact there are some very emotional moments, but it still feels very limited.
Ultimately, it’s a fairly short story that feels stretched in order to fit the two hour feature length format, whereas I believe it would have been much more beneficial to simply make the length of the film whatever the narrative required it to be. This cuts out all the filler and creates an all round stronger film.
That’s not to say that Lion doesn’t succeed in creating emotion, as it certainly hits home with the subject of family and love. Saroo’s drive to find his biological family, yet not lose his adopted one (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) is very touching and human about the film.
Dev Patel gives a solid performance, as reflected with his BAFTA win for best supporting actor. Sunny Pawar (who plays young Saroo) also gives a very good performance, carrying the film well whilst he leads through the opening act, particularly considering his age and that he’s not a big-name star.
Lion is a strong film that succeeds well in creating an intense and exciting setup to a film, but ultimately falls fairly flat in the middle. The engaging, emotional and moving climax rescues this well, but the overall feeling that there’s a lot of filler lets the film down significantly.
So close to being a truly excellent film, but instead remains at a good one.