(Includes some spoilers)
Lion is a film that I went into with few expectations. I didn’t know too much about the story, except that it involved Dev Patel’s character losing touch with his family and then tracing them through Google Earth. 2 hours of Anwar from Skins looking at an iPad then? Not exactly…
Lion is the incredible true story of Saroo Brierley – if you don’t want to know what happens to Saroo until you’ve seen the film, look away now. Saroo and his brother spend their time stealing coal from freight trains in order to afford milk and food for their poor family. One night, Saroo follows his brother to a job away from home, and waits at the train station for his return. When his brother fails to return, Saroo clambers onto a empty train, which embarks with him still on board. Two days later, he arrives in Calcutta….
The first half of the film follows Saroo’s journey in Calcutta, dodging police, (presumed) sex traffickers and so on. Eventually he ends up in an orphanage, where he’s adopted by a kind-hearted Australian couple and goes to live in Tasmania. Twenty years later, he’s grown up, is studying in Melbourne, is in a relationship with an American student, but the pain of his past still haunts him.
Director Garth Davis and writer Like Davies (based on Brierley’s autobiography) do a fantastic job of pulling you into this story – the first half, set in India, is filled with almost heart-stopping tension as you will the young Saroo (a remarkable performance by Sunny Pawar) to find safety. The second half is more measured, but is anchored by a brilliant Dev Patel who totally convinces as the easy going young man with a grim past bubbling just under the surface.
Although the script can read a bit like an advert for Google (“hey Saroo, have you heard of this amazing new program called Google Earth?” asks one character), it’s unavoidable when you consider that’s how the real Saroo tracked down his birth mother. The only criticism I’d have is that Saroo seems to stumble a bit too easily on his hometown, but the way that Davis mixes scenes of Google Earth with some spectacular overhead shots of the Indian landscapes is very well done.
There’s good support from Nicole Kidman (boasting a very 80s perm when we first see her) as Saroo’s adoptive mother and Divian Ladwa is impressive as his adoptive brother, who’s a far more mixed-up kid than Saroo.
The ending is an inevitably emotional one, as we see the real people behind the characters, and learn what really happened to these people. The truth behind Saroo’s birth brother’s fate, especially, is something of a gut-punch. Lion is still playing at cinemas around the country (and if it achieves Oscar success next weekend, for a few months yet). It’s a powerful, entertaining and emotional watch which is well worth two hours of your time.