Film review – Lion (Garth Davis, 2017)

Garth Davis’s debut feature, Lion, tells the true story of Saroo Brierley (Sunny Pawar), a boy who is separated from his brother at a train station in central India at the age of five. Boarding a train he believes his brother is aboard, Saroo falls asleep and the train sets off. He travels for two days across unfamiliar territory, eventually arriving in Kolkata on the far Eastern side of India, 1600km from his home. Unable to read or write, and with everyone speaking the unfamiliar Bengali language, he finds it impossible to reconnect with his home and is sent to an orphanage. He is eventually adopted by an Australian couple (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman). Twenty years later, a grown-up Saroo (Dev Patel) starts a relationship with Lucy (Rooney Mara), before a chance encounter reignites his interest in his origins and he starts to try to reconnect with his real family.

Sunny Pawar is phenomenal as the young Saroo

Dev Patel is as brilliant as ever in the lead role as a grown-up Saroo, building on his celebrated performances in Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (and its sequel). It’s a role that needs to provide a reflection of the innocent and likeable younger Saroo we have watched for the first half of the film, whilst also covering the emotional turmoil of a man who has lost his past and lived a completely different life due to a small but very significant fork in his road.

But it is Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo that steals the show. He has a charisma that shines through even when he’s completely still, effortlessly shifting from anger to sadness to fear and to contemplation as the plot develops. Without this young star, the film may have fallen flat. [1]

There is a clear distinction between the feel of the film between India and Australia. The filmmakers achieved this difference by having an almost entirely different production team for the two countries, with natives of each being involved with every aspect of the process. It’s well worth staying around to see the end credits so you can witness the difference – they run the two side by side, giving each equal billing.

This is one of the most heart-warming stories of the year, if not the decade. It may be a bit of a predictable ending (suspend your inquisitive mind and stop yourself from contemplating whether or not the story would even be a story if it had an unhappy ending), but the beauty is in the performances and the characters’ journeys – be they figurative or literal. Do yourself a favour and make sure you catch this one.

[1] There’s a fantastic article on the casting process of Sunny Pawar on Vulture.com. Check it out here: http://www.vulture.com/2016/12/sunny-pawar-lion-casting.html

 

 

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