Can you remember what you were doing when you were five-years old? Could you remember (if you’ve since moved) the street you grew up on? The house you lived in? Local landmarks? Could you find your way back? What about if you moved 1600 kilometres away? What about if you moved across oceans?
Lion tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, played by Sunny Pawar (in his first feature) as a young Saroo and Dev Patel (The Road Within, Chappie) as older Saroo, who accidentally ends up travelling some 1600 kilometres from his home in Ganesh Talai in India. He travels with his brother to a station but falls asleep on the platform whilst his brother goes to find out about some work. When Saroo wakes up his brother has not returned, he panics, tries to find him and steps onto the only train in the station and falls asleep again.
When he wakes, the train is moving and he is trapped on it for a few days as it makes its epic journey across India. It finally stops in Calcutta. There, living on the streets, Saroo is finally taken to an orphanage and, when they can’t find his hometown (he pronounces it Ganestalay) or his parents, he is adopted by an Australian couple. For the next 20 years or so he lives a nice life in Australia before embarking on a five-year mission to find his home town and his family using Google Maps.
The performance of Sunny Pawar, as a young Saroo, is nothing short of superb. In his first feature, this young boy lights up the screen every moment he’s on it and that’s got to be the cutest run you’ve ever seen! Saroo’s brother, Gaddu, is played by Abishek Bharate (also in his first feature) who also performs admirably.
Saroo’s adoptive parents are the Bierley’s, John and Sue. John is played by David Wenham (Lord of The Rings, 300) whilst Sue is played by Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge, The Others). Kidman gives a very good performance. It is heartfelt and there’s really a sense of doing right by adopting Saroo as well as Mantosh, another Indian boy they adopt (played by Divian Ladwa (Detectorists, Saxon) who has some troubles.
Patel meanwhile is very, very good as Saroo. I like Dev Patel, I think he’s a really good actor. In this though, the writing, by Luke Davis (Candy, Life), makes him out to be a bit of a prick. I mean, I guess I’m supposed to beat around the bush a bit but the truth is he comes across as a prick. He is ungrateful to his adoptive parents, he messes his long-term girlfriend around, played by Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Carol) and treats Mantosh like dirt.
The reason this stands out so much is that in the middle to final third of the film things begin to drag. It’s not the quickest or most fluid film I’ve ever seen anyway but…well, I question if there was really enough for a two-hour long film. In fact, I know there isn’t. For me, there are too many flashbacks when things should really be moving forward and all this empty space that needs to be filled is done with Saroo coming across like a prick. And I don’t for one minute think he was.
This is such a shame as when we get to the end, which – yes – has been wrote and shot, by director Garth Davis (his first feature too), to pull at your heart strings like an X-Factor montage, is very moving. Of course it is, how could it now be? It’s also a welcome relief from the slow, treacle-like, film we’ve just had to endure.
I don’t usually mention a films score but, as it’s Oscar nominated, I have to be honest and say the only time I really noticed the music was right at the end. Just before the final credits role a Sia track starts up. It’s fair to say it stands out like a sore thumb. I’ve really no idea whose idea that was but it doesn’t work.
Lion is a nice film that pulls at your heart strings and features some really great performances. But it’s too long and could have easily been half-an-hour shorter and not lost any of its heart.