Starring Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, Divian Ladwa, and Rooney Mara
Directed by Garth Davis
Five year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) do all that they can to help out their struggling mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) who herself works a laborious job in a small town in India. One evening, the two brothers take a bike ride followed by a train ride to seek out a new job prospect. Upon arriving at the train station, Guddu tells a sleepy Saroo to wait for him on a bench in the train station while he goes to find out about the job, but Guddu doesn't return. A saddened Saroo falls asleep in an empty train car, only to wake up and find the train moving. 1600 kilometers and days later, five year-old Saroo arrives in Calcutta with no money and no real concept of where he lives. After a series of treacherous events, young Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) who give the boy a proper home in their country. Twenty years later, an adult Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) begins attending college where his fellow students including his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) spur him on to try and find his place of birth and his biological mother.
Lion tells the true story above in an admittedly generic way, but one that is well acted and solidly lensed by first time director Garth Davis. Split into almost even and equal parts across the two hour film, both aspects of Saroo's life -- his childhood and young adult years -- feel surprisingly fully realized with neither one getting the short shrift. Fortunately, both actors playing Saroo are captivating, holding our attention throughout their halves of the film.
Young Sunny Pawar makes his debut here and his wide-eyed innocence and genuine love for his family is perfectly conveyed at the film's outset which makes it all the more heartbreaking when he is essentially orphaned and forced to realize the horrors outside the walls of his admittedly run-down home. The chaos of India with its hordes of people would certainly frighten this blogger so I can't imagine how it must've been for Saroo, but Pawar vividly emotes the fear and also the continuing hope that he will be able to return home someday.
Dev Patel is giving his best performance by far here. His Saroo also begins with a wide-eyed innocence and genuine love for his Australian family at his character's outset. The genuine appreciation for his adopted parents is evident as he is well aware that he has been afforded a wonderful life for the past twenty years. Upon entering college and meeting some other students from India, however, memories begin to flood back into his mind from decades ago and Patel does a fantastic job showcasing his character's guilt for being chosen to leave India and for leaving behind his family as well as for even contemplating the notion of beginning a search for his biological mother and the pain that could cause his adoptive mother Sue.
Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara are nice additions to the mix as well although both roles are only truly in service to both iterations of Saroo who is the sole focus of the film. While Lion never gets preachy in its message about home and family, it is admittedly a bit overly sentimental sometimes. That's never usually a downfall for this reviewer and that holds true here, but I could see how some may be turned off by the uplifting nature of the piece. Overall, Lion is a bit generic -- nothing reinvents the wheel here -- but it still delivers a beautiful true story that tugs at the heartstrings every now and then.
The RyMickey Rating: B