With some great performances and stellar direction, Lion is a powerful tale of identity and grief.
On the surface, it would be understandable if you were to dismiss Garth Davis’ Lion as just another emotional, yet charming fluff piece of a movie. And, to be fair, you would be right. But what sets Lion out as just a little bit more special is the strength of Davis’ direction as well as a several fantastic lead performances, so much so that Lion manages to rise above the pack and is certainly worth your attention.
Lion tells the story of Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a young boy who is separated from his family in India at five years old. Saroo faces several hardships before being adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) and moving to Tasmania, but 25 years later as an adult (Dev Patel) he is wrecked by his memories of India and what happened, so he sets out to find his family.
Split into two distinctive parts, one set in 1980s India and the other in modern-day Australia, two actors take on the role of Saroo, both giving different performances and takes on the character, whilst bearing some similarities. Newcomer Sunny Pawar gives a powerful and simplistic performance, his story being predominantly told through looks, movements and expressions, as well as Davis’ fantastic direction. This part of the film set in India is a truly astonishing extended piece of film making, packed full of nuanced and subtle storytelling and devastating emotional moments; it’s a wonderfully shot and tightly edited piece. As Dev Patel takes over as Saroo in his adult years, Patel provides a deeply affecting and moving portrayal of a young man beginning to achieve success in life, whilst still harboring regret and torment over his past. Perhaps the most interesting aspect to this half of the film is the exploration and examination of a man clearly mentally distressed and traumatized, Patel is stunning in these moments, expertly conveying the story and character of a man so affected that he cannot bring himself to open up to his loved ones or break away from self-confinement. Lion isn’t just a film about grief and regret, it’s an examination of one’s mental state because of this and Patel brings such rawness to this side of the story.
Additionally, Nicole Kidman provides a powerful performance as Saroo’s adopted mother, convincingly conveying the joy at her newly formed family whilst also showing the more emotionally strenuous side to this situation. Poor David Wenham feels very hard done by with little to do in the film, the same goes for Rooney Mara as Saroo’s girlfriend. These two in particular feel underdeveloped and underutilized, along with the subplot and story of Saroo’s adopted brother who joins the family a year after him, these are aspects of the film that feel a little wasted and unnecessary. This part of the film set in Australia does lag slightly and plod through to its rather rushed finale, and whilst it’s not ineffective or bad, it’s certainly all a tad unconvincing especially in comparison to the film’s rousing and powerful first act.
All in all, Lion is a film that brings so much emotion and heart to the table that it’s near impossible to write it off. With great performances across the board and some fantastic direction as well, Lion is a heartbreaking yet uplifting film worthy of your attention.
Lion, directed by Garth Davis, is distributed in the UK by The Weinstein Company. Certificate PG.