Director: Garth Davis
Cast: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, Sunny Pawar, David Wenham, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Aditya Roy Kapoor
Runtime: 2 hrs 9 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: http://lionmovie.com
Opening Day: 24 November 2016
Synopsis: Five-year-old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of kilometers across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.
There has been much hype about the Weinstein brothers’ latest venture, Lion, and how it is a major contender for the brothers to woo the heart of the Academy Awards’ panel. It’s not difficult to understand the hype – after all this is a movie with a strong cast (Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman in a supporting role no less) and an emotional true story that seems too dramatic to be real. How can you not root for the little boy who was fortunate enough to grow up in a loving foster home but had to go through the unfortunate series of events which include being separated from his beloved elder brother at a tender age, left to fend for himself in a city that looks familiar yet is so strange only to find himself almost shipped off to falsely kind strangers with a hidden and definitely dangerous agenda? How can you not root for him given that this is a real story and he still hasn’t given up on his family 25 years after his separation from them?
Thanks largely to an amazing performance from young newcomer, Sunny Pawar, you find your heart melting for his portrayal of young Saroo who is only too eager to help bring in money for his poverty-stricken family. His savviness on the street have you momentarily forget that this is a 5 year old boy but when he is plucked from the loving warmth of his mother, who he only knows as “Mum”, and his elder brother, Guddu, you remember this plucky fellow is just a young boy who has an extremely low chance of surviving on his own. His close shaves with strangers with ill intentions will have you fearing for him as you are pulled into the nightmare that he is facing and his unwavering desire to go back to his mother and brother.
Which is why the second half of the film becomes such a let-down. As we fast forward to meet the grown Saroo (portrayed by Dev Patel), who has clearly become more Australian than Indian (to the point that he can’t eat Indian food the Indian way and is jokingly offered a fork and knife), there’s an inevitable dip in pace. A chance interaction with some things from his forgotten past stirs memories of his home and the family he left behind. And once his memories are awakened, Saroo goes into soul-searching mode, descending into guilt about living a privileged life while his family members are, in his mind, suffering in their search to find him. The talent of Dev Patel, who so deftly demonstrated his acting chops in his brilliant portrayal of mathematical genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan’s love affair with mathematical equations and theories, is wasted here as he simply mopes and does a “poor little rich kid” turn, spending his nights searching obsessively on his computer and crawling through Google Earth, ignoring his girlfriend (portrayed by an underutilised Rooney Mara)’s attempts to reach out to him and help him.
It is a great pity that so much time is spent establishing Saroo’s obsession with finding his way back and seeing hallucinations which is supposed to give you an insight to his state of mind much like the device employed in A Beautiful Mind. Unlike that movie though, this one doesn’t build it up nicely. You are abruptly thrown into Saroo’s mental state of disarray with no warning and expected to sympathise with him just because he was a really cute kid who tugged at your heartstrings. The fact that the movie is edited to rely so much on the lazy fade-to-blacks for the transition between scenes makes the abruptness and patchwork editing of the second half of the movie even more glaring.
Little effort is made to establish Saroo’s relationship with his foster parents and foster brother. Again you are simply expected to connect with why Saroo feels so torn between his families with no context set in place properly for you. One of the highlights of the movie was Nicole Kidman’s turn as his foster mother, Sue. Kidman’s mettle as an actress shines through during one short but important scene where she reveals why she and her husband chose adoption (even though they could have children). Sadly, she has too little screen time and you can only enjoy a limited amount of her sterling performance.
Thankfully, Lion is salvaged by a final reunion scene that is powerful and that makes you remember how incredible this story is and emotionally reconnects you to Saroo, which makes his moping earlier on almost forgivable. The reveal of the significance of the movie’s title at the very end is also appropriately poignant and reminds you clearly that this is Saroo’s story you are watching.
(An incredible true story, Lion is worth a watch. But just like all imperfect real-life stories, be prepared for some flaws)
Review by Katrina Tee