Lion tells the real life story of Saroo Brierley, how he got separated from his family in India as a young boy, and then how he managed to find them again 25 years later using Google Maps. The film is based on Saroo’s actual book A Long Way Home.
This is essentially a film of two halves. The first follows Saroo as he gets separated from his brother, loses his family, and eventually winds up being adopted by an Australian family. This whole section of the film is in Hindi and Bengali, and its great that the director Garth Davis and Screenwriter Luke Davies embraced this, and didn’t feel the need to have it in English.
As a young child during the first half of the film Saroo is played by Sunny Pawar; he’s a very young actor, who does a great job carrying this entire portion of the film. His journey through India is really heartbreaking, seeing him get lost, and ignored or mistreated by so many is hard. And Pawar absolutely sells the fact that this kid is so lost and confused. I’m not sure how old he is, but he can’t be much more than 6 or 7, and this is one of the best child performance I’ve seen in a while.
In the second half we move to Australia, where Saroo, now in his 20s, is played by Dev Patel (Skins, Slumdog Millionaire). Patel’s performance is brilliant. You see him slowly become obsessed with attempting to find his birth family, and Patel really does a brilliant job at conveying this a little more scene by scene. He also plays off Nicole Kidman, as his adopted mother, so well. There are two scenes in particular, a dinner scene and one where they talk about why she chose to adopt that are some emotionally charged, but in such different ways, and both actors are giving wonderful performances.
The problem with the second half of the film, is that there isn’t really have enough story there to sustain a full hour or so of the film. The pacing, that was so good during the Indian parts, suddenly slows right down. There are long periods where we just see Saroo poring over Google Maps, which isn’t brilliantly cinematic. So even with the brilliant, and emotional performances, it does get a little dull at times.
Thankfully the emotional payoff at the end is absolutely worth it. It’s such a beautiful, and genuinely heartwarming moment, that it’s hard not to get emotional with the film, I was in floods of tears at the end. Is it emotionally manipulative? Sure, but with this story that has to be expected, and I didn’t mind it really tugging at the heartstrings. I do hope that people go and see Lion, despite becoming a little sluggish towards the end; it is such an emotional experience, and one that will uplift you.