In the 1980’s, two young brothers Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) and Saroo (Sunny Pawar) have travelled to try to find work and, by extension, food in local town Khandwa. One night, the two are separated in a train station and thinking his brother will return, Saroo boards a train he thinks will reunite them, but he awakes hundreds of miles away. Scared, Saroo spends most of his nights running to try to find Guddu to no avail.
A few years later, Saroo has ended up in a children’s home where an Australian family (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) adopt him and bring him to Tazmania to raise him as their own. In the present day and now a college student, adult Saroo (Dev Patel) cannot shake his need for closure and his family, and with the invention of Google Earth, tries to retrace his steps to find home.
While you may be forgiven for thinking Lion – whilst remarkable and astonishing in story – may sound a little on the saccharine side fear not, for under director Garth Davis’ assured hands the film is as moving and genuine as they come. Sad yet uplifting, Davis handles the film’s many facets perfectly, building up through the story with such warmth that when the final moments arrive, they are full of wonder and most importantly, true and pure love. There are faults in the film, mainly in its length which feels slightly strained at times, but rarely derail the film from its epic and beautiful poise.
But the true star of the film is an astounding central performance from Dev Patel, easily the best of the young Brit’s career, and one that is sure to have him in the awards mix come the season. Spending months preparing for the role by physically altering his physique and learning to master the Australian accent and growing his hair, Patel’s immersion shines through a powerful but accomplished performance. Revelatory I think is the term.
It wouldn’t be right, of course, not to mention Sunny Pawar’s role as the young Saroo, which is as astounding and touching as Patel’s, and together they create true magic. In addition, Rooney Mara continues her hugely impressive run of fantastic performances, even if she is not given quite as much as she has been required to do in the past.
And a word too on Nicole Kidman, who produces her best work for years as Saroo’s adoptive mother in a performance that is beautiful and heartbreaking, and everything in between. Like Patel, it will be an awards contender for sure, maybe even more so. Truly, there is hardly a false note through the ensemble.
Wonderful, profound, and one of the year’s most stirring productions, Lion is an utter joy. While it is directed and shot with care, it lives or dies on its performances; of which those from Patel, young Pawar and Nicole Kidman are simply stunning. A beautiful piece of cinema.