It feels a bit like déjà vu recently saying the phrase, “Based on the incredible true story” but Lion sincerely is based on the almost unbelievable story of Saroo, who at five years old got stuck on a train alone for two days and arrived in Calcutta with no idea where he is, where his home is or what it’s even called or his mother’s full name. Despite that he survives on the streets and is adopted to a family in Australia, years later with the creation of Google Earth he decides to take on the herculean task of finding his family using the little information he can remember. Starring Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, David Wenham and Priyanka Bose. Directed by Garth Davis (The Top of the Lake) and adapted by Luke Davies (Life, Reclaim, Candy).
It sounds strange to say but surprisingly the film starts at the beginning, in a time where most films follow a non-linear time line that normally begins with the older character then going back and forth but Davis has decided to do things the old-fashioned way and start with the beginning. That choice does make it rather slow going to start off but at the same time it also makes you absolutely fall in love with Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo, his ability for his age is quite impressive and as he’s put through various things and at every point he feels genuine and apologies as this sounds clichéd but he’s also adorable. You’re immediately thrown into the feeling of wanting to jump through the screen and save this kind-hearted, curious little boy from the dangers surrounding his new life on the streets and it’s almost hard to watch everything he has to go through, especially considering it’s based on real-life events. By the time we finally see Dev Patel emerge as the older Saroo, you’re well and truly invested in the character and his journey.
The subtly clever quality of the film is that while it moves slowly and it’s fairly heavy going material, you may not notice it quietly chipping away at your emotions, for each trauma that Saroo encounters and every moment of frustration and haunting memories, until the film reaches its finale and they’ve built up to the surface ready to break you down as the final moments begin. Patel is a huge part of that, giving everything he has in an intensely strong and emotional performance, his finest to date and it’s helped by great support actresses, Mara and Kidman, the latter definitely has been given a meatier role as Saroo’s adoptive mother but both add to the film’s overall quality. Another other important element with such a heartbreaking yet inspiring and resilient story is the score, in this case provided by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran, it does exactly what it should, building the intensity of each moment until they overflow with emotion.
There are moments where the film comes close to crossing the fine line between moving slowly and dragging but it manages to just keep itself on the right side, it still may be a film not made for the less patient members of the audience. Disregarding that, it is still a fascinating story of human strength and determination against ridiculous odds, it’s almost difficult to believe a person could go through so much and be almost tortured by those experiences and yet refuse to give up. Patel gives a fantastic, memorable performance and Pawar is certainly one of the most impressive child actors as of late, this film asked a lot of him but he did not disappoint. It’s heavy going but a meaningful film with a great message of family, adoption and hope.