Lion is the true story of Saroo, an Indian boy who gets lost in Calcutta, eventually being adopted by an Australian couple. Growing up he worries about his lost family, and when introduced to Google Earth starts tracking them back across India.
The trouble with true stories is that you’re never sure whether the film is incredible or just the story. If you don’t care either way, then go and see Lion, it is a worthy story about family and finding yourself. Though I must say, as a film, it’s pretty spectacular as well.
Lion is very much there and back, we witness Saroo’s childhood, as he gets lost, and his adulthood, as he finds himself again. Many parts of the film are through a child’s eyes, and this world screaming with innocence and curiosity. This then becomes memory, which Saroo desperately tries to cling on to, and his contrast between young and old ties the whole film together.
The padding surrounding this is not so interesting. We are introduced to Saroo’s adopted mother, his brother, and his girlfriend, all of which have different stories, but none of which are developed enough to add anything, and should focus more on Saroo, making scenes like Nicole Kidman’s Sue pouring her heart out somewhat undeserving, feeling a lot like Oscar bait for Kidman.
Not to say those performances aren’t terrific, however. Dev Patel is haunting as Saroo, and what could be taken as angst-y and unlikable is, through Patel, deep and human. Kidman also puts on a good performance, though underused massively, as is Rooney Mara. I must say the real star here is Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo. I’ve said it before; 2016 is the year of exceptional child actors.
The use of Google Earth is also commendable. Many films struggle to make computer screens cinematic, but Garth Davis has no issue here, contrasting the flatness of computer images with Saroo’s dynamic childhood memories. The film isn’t about Google Earth though, it’s very much a character piece.
I can’t say I thought Lion was really exceptional, but it is atmospheric, compelling, and ultimately tear jerking.