Director Garth Davis tells the emotional true story of Saroo Brierly, a man who as a child, was separated from his family in India. Finding himself in Calcutta after being stuck on a train for two days, not speaking the native language and having no idea how to get back home, Saroo winds up in an orphanage, where he's taken in by an Australian couple, Sue and John. Saroo grows up to confident, kind and ambitious, even after such a traumatic childhood event. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) plays Saroo beautifully, a kind hearted man going through a personal dilemma that he fears will tear his new family apart. I'm eager to say this is Patel's finest performance of his career so far, he's gentle for the most part, yet there's always pain behind the eyes, as he longs to find his real family. Saroo is a man of two worlds, and Patel plays that perfectly. Despite being raised in Australia by terrific parents, he never feels like he belongs. He's grateful but struggling with the privilege he now has as a man compared to the poverty of his youth.
I was quite surprised with how Lion was structured, I expected us to be with Dev Patel for the majority of the film, yet the first act is given entirely to young actor Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child. Pawar is fantastic and is fully able to convey the horror that a child feels when they lose their family. The descent from a kind, loving family to the harsh bitterness of the streets is a nightmarish journey that we're taken on. Whilst this first act does work, I would have preferred to see Saroo's childhood through flashbacks, as a way to spend more time with Saroo as a man and really get the most out of Patel's performance.
The rest of the performances are all terrific, Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge!) plays Saroo's adoptive mother who wants nothing but the best for her son, even if that means him seeking out his real family. Kidman will probably be nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards and it would be a well deserved nomination. Rooney Mara (Carol) is also great in the role of Saroo's girlfriend, who is feeling the effects of Saroo's situation as it tugs on their relationship.
The majority of Lion is spent with Saroo using Google Earth to find his childhood home, and how this search is affecting him and the people around him. Because of this, a lot of the drama is limited to that of a computer screen. Because this is a relatively short story in terms of actual action and exploration, the film struggles to fill the two hour run time, to the point where a lot of the middle feels repetitive, and the film's finale feels rushed.
Garth Davis does a great job of taking this rather repetitive script and keeping us engaged both visually and dramatically both through his camera work and the performances of his actors. The musical score is also fantastic! Lion won't be a front runner this awards season, but there's certainly enough here for me to recommend!