London-born actor Dev Patel has come a long, long way from starring in the E4 teenage drama Skins. Throughout his climbing career, the actor has surprised in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire and delighted in both The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel. He’s proved his worth as an actor and Lion furthers the evidence.
A five-year-old Indian boy Saroo Brierley is lost on the streets of Calcutta after losing track of his older brother. Living on the streets, Saroo is taken into care before being flown over to Tasmania where he meets Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham), his now-respective adoptive parents.
Growing up with life in Australia, with his also-adopted brother Mantosh, Saroo (an older Dev Patel) feels incomplete. With the arrival of the Google Earth platform, he attempts to splice memories and recreate the steps taken twenty years ago to find his lost family.
The true story arc gives an inevitable outcome in the viewers head. Surely this can’t go awry; after all this tumultuous heartache and a literal journey from hell for a young Saroo, it can’t end on a sour note surely. It’s one of the beats that first time director Garth Davis undoubtedly came across, but when a story as uniquely powerful as this comes about through the words of Saroo himself, it’s hard not to ultimately be engulfed by its overwhelming sadness and honourable glimmer of mass hope.
A young Saroo battles life on the streets; a distinctly bleak and insurmountable array of challenges to ever be considered for a child of such innocence. Played by one of the year’s breakout performances (and possibly one of the cutest, most dizzyingly adorable child actors to this day), Sunny Pawer is a glittering, gleaming actor that so forcefully manipulates too many emotions to contemplate down to his sheer capability to feel such raw emotion and successfully portraying it so evocatively and honourably so that two hours of this fresh face would have made for excellent viewing. Still, the story must go on.
Wenham’s portrayal of real-life adoptive father John is admirable at best, but Kidman flourishes as the devoted adoptive mother whose personal decisions lead her down an abnormal parental route, thus leading her to Saroo and Mantosh. Though Sue’s heightened and apparent angst over one of her children lead her down a path of inadequacy and unrelenting personal issues, it proves Kidman as a trustworthy asset to bring a story of such emotional depth to light, paralleling Saroo’s personal battles of self-discovery with equal poignancy.
And then there’s Patel, proving beforehand that he can handle weight such as this, but within Lion brings it full circle. His screen time is blundered ever so slight with the attachment to a vastly underdeveloped Rooney Mara and sometimes swerves off course, and again with a grown up Mantosh whose personal addictions and obscure life choices simply appear to make it harder for Sue and family. But on the correct track, Patel attempts the path of re-discovery and through the technological achievements of today a twenty-year absence from wherever he came may be solved. He carries the latter half of Lion on his shoulders as the trauma of a blurred former life haunts and dominates.
Davis’ first feature is a sure-fire emotional breakdown waiting to happen. It ticks all the correct boxes, sports a collective of talents that for the most all deserve praise whether it be nominations or further succession and overall utilises a story that’s coursing with both heartache and inevitable warmth, carried further by such an enormous and sweeping cinematography, panning both parallels of the bustling streets of Brisbane to the plains of India. It’s an astonishingly powerful story that focuses wholeheartedly on the human connection, the dynamics we make and those we simply cannot break. Family is everything, and in Lion it sure is the fundamentals and backbone of a life that ultimately feels complete.
Dir: Garth Davis
Scr: Luke Davies
Cast: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Rooney Mara
Prd: Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, Angie Fielder
Music: Volker Bertelmann, Dustin O’Halloran
DOP: Greig Fraser
Country: Australia, USA
Runtime: 118 minutes