Directed by Garth Davis
Starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
The search for one's past, in the presence of both memory and nostalgia, is the basis for countless travel dramas. In director Garth Davis's Lion, the story of a young man retracing his steps, trying to find his family from which he was separated years earlier, could suffer from cliche melodrama. Instead, however, Davis benefits from the story's true life beginnings and incredible performances by its stellar cast. Escaping genre cliches, Lion is an uplifting story bound to not leave a dry eye in the house.
When we first meet Saroo, he's a young, winsome boy full of life and wonder. At just five years old, every element he faces is new and exciting. A fateful train ride with his older brother, Guddu, finds Saroo alone and seemingly lost, separated from his brother in a place he doesn't know. Fast forward 25 years and Saroo is an adult, adopted by a New Zealand family, studying in college. Thanks to new technology, namely Google Earth, Saroo begins a decent into near-madness trying to retrace his steps and the long, winding train tracks, to find his home and hopefully his mother and brother.
Lion is broken into two acts, the first being young Saroo's struggle for survival. Heightened by young newcomer Sunny Pawar's breakout performance (one of the best, and most memorable, of the year), Saroo's travels take him through the loneliness of a big city like Kolkata, unsure of the language and too trusting of the grown ups. Despite his picture being placed in newspapers and the word getting out that he's far from home, Saroo is never able to reconnect with his mother. Instead, he is adopted out to a caring couple, played by Nicole Kidman in one of her finest roles in years and David Wenham.
The second act belongs to Dev Patel, delivering easily his most heart-wrenching and inspiring performance to date. His current, grown life is mostly well-structured. He's a smart kid. He's learned the English language. He has a beautiful and caring girlfriend (Rooney Mara). But, hidden behind his charming smile, adult Saroo is still connected to his true home. Not willing to break his adopted mother's heart, Saroo falls into a spiral of darkness, ending with his apartment in shambles, covered in maps and clippings hopefully linking pieces of his past together, and his personal relationships on the fringe.
While the true story behind Lion is seemingly well-known, the film handles each revelation and twist and turn with enough care to allow even the most knowledgeable of the real story to be amazed and emotionally affected. Lion is beautifully shot, thanks to cinematographer Greg Fraser. And, the performances can't be beat.
Lion works mostly because it knows it's going to ride the line of being too emotional, but instead paces itself with genuineness and respect. It's gorgeously epic in such a subtle way; Oscar-bait, for sure, but in a good way.
Runtime: 118 minutes