Based on an incredible true story, Lion is the journey of five year old Saroo Brierley as he gets lost on a train and accidentally travels a 1000 miles away from his home to a place where people don’t speak his language. He doesn’t know his mother’s name, or the correct name of his hometown. After months of hardship and no hope of finding home, he is lucky enough to get adopted by an Australian couple. After he reaches adulthood, Saroo starts his search for his true home and his birth mother, who he still dreams about.
The first half of the movie is pure gold. Its an intense experience watching an innocent five year old get lost in a country of one billion people, and its painful to see him helplessly wandering around the harsh streets of Calcutta trying to find help to get back home. The apathy of the crowds, the abuse and other harsh realities he has to endure breaks your heart, but director Garth Davis does a great job of resisting the temptation to explore these issues, strictly sticking with the story. Although Dev Patel as the older Saroo, conflicted about exploring his past, and Nicole Kidman, with her mature portrayal of Saroo’s adoptive mother are great at their parts, its child actor Sunny Pawar, playing the five year old Saroo, who steals the show. He seeps into a demanding role and makes you care deeply for him. The threats of his new unknown cruel world keep you at the edge of your seat throughout this journey and even after he goes to Australia, the script does a great job at showing how a kid from a whole new world starts acclimating to his new life. Writer Luke Davies manages to keep you engaged even when you know what the plot is and where its heading. In that sense, the movie is not so much about the story as its about the execution. I’m a fan of cinematographer Greig Fraser’s work and Lion’s cinematography is a great example of why. It contributes to the feeling of the movie in a way that’s totally invisible, which is the point of cinematography.
Lion does seem to lose pace in its second half, where there is a little too much time spent on Saroo wrestling with himself about his search and weather to tell his adoptive parents about it. The multiple scenes of his search using Google Earth, although an impressive feat in reality, feels monotonous from an execution standpoint in a movie. There are also some scenes about conflict within Saroo’s adoptive family that doesn’t really matter to the actual plot of the movie. Towards the end, the movie does get back on its pace though, with an emotional climax that you obviously knew was imminent and yet enjoy thoroughly.
Lion is a wonderful story, and the fact that its true adds to the experience. With a universally appealing theme of finding lost love, a great script and a child actor who’ll blow your mind, it engages you completely and delivers an unforgettable experience. I will rate it 8.5/10.