Film Review – Lion (2016); an astonishing and uplifting true story about family love

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There are very few films that I can say have moved me to tears, but I can now add Lion to this list after attending last night’s UK premiere during the London Film Festival.

Lion is the astonishing true story of Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) and is based on his book A Long Way Home. Saroo was born in India and lived there with his mother and two siblings until the day when he was five years old, that he was separated from his brother, Guddu, after falling asleep on a train and ending up 1,600 miles from home in Calcutta with no way of getting back to his family. Eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman & David Wenham), he grew up in Tazmania with them and his adopted brother Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), another homeless Indian boy.

Twenty five years later, in 2008, the faces and memories of his family in India resurface and although he has loving parents and is set for university and a career, it’s clear that a part of Saroo remains lost; caught between the life he has had in Australia and the one he left behind. When a university friend suggests he use Google Earth (quite new back then) to try and locate the area he sees in his memories to look for the remote village he was from, his search for home begins and with it the hope that he will finally find a sense of peace and completeness.

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Nicole Kidman (Sue Brierley) & Sunny Pawar (as young Saroo)

Your emotional connection with this film starts from the outset, as we first see young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his life in India. I hadn’t expected so much of it to be set when Saroo was a little boy, but it’s definitely a strength of the film as Sunny gives such an affecting performance. After last night’s screening, Nicole Kidman commented that for a little boy, who wasn’t an actor and didn’t speak English, to give that kind of performance is a credit to director Garth Davis and I’m minded to agree.

You first see how happy he is, despite the poor conditions they live in and the strong bond he has with his brother, before witnessing the fear and confusion this little five year old experienced, when without warning he was separated from everything he knew. It’s heartbreaking to see the life he and other children have on the streets of Calcutta and certainly feels as if you are watching every child’s nightmare. It comes as a relief when little Saroo finally meets the Brierleys and you know he is safe. I challenge you not to be captivated by Sunny Pawar and the strength of his portrayal of young Saroo creates the affection you have for him as a young man.

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Dev Patel & Rooney Mara

Dev Patel (still perhaps most known for Slumdog Millionaire or viewers of The Newsroom) was desperate to play Saroo, resorting to going to the writer’s house and his passion for this young man’s story shines through in his powerful performance. He conveys the conflicted emotions Saroo has; he loves his family and, unlike Mantosh, has settled in to life in Australia. However, the film highlights the guilt he carries with him, guilt for the comfortable Western life he has compared to his poorer childhood, but also guilt as to the pain he must have caused his family in India, who have no idea what happened to him. It’s clearly a heavy burden, which he has kept inside, only revealing it to his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara, who I do think is a little wasted in this film), who helps him have the courage to face his past.

In a film all about love and family, having an actress of Nicole Kidman’s calibre on board was essential and she gives a beautiful performance as Sue, a woman who has so much love for her sons and is desperate to keep her family together. She has some lovely scenes with Sunny and a very real connection on screen with Patel. A scene in which she tells him that they chose to adopt because they wanted him is particularly moving and Kidman brings a huge depth of emotion to such moments. We also see the strains in the family quite early, as Saroo’s brother Mantosh (adopted a year after him), finds life a struggle, which we assume is a result of experiences he had as a child before his adoption. From the small insight Lion gives us in to what those children go through, I cannot even begin to imagine and Divian Ladwa is very good at conveying trauma and its long-lasting effect on Mantosh.

To say this is his first feature film, Garth Davis has done an impressive job. Lion is a visually gorgeous film, whether the scenes in India or Australia and he cleverly uses the scenery to draw links between the two places Saroo has called home. I also loved his style of adding the flashes of his childhood every so often in to Saroo’s present, forever keeping his memories alive. As the film reaches its conclusion and Saroo travels back to India it’s as if the two halves of Saroo are finally coming together and I challenge you not to be affected by it.

I found Lion to be a hugely satisfying film. It’s beautifully shot, strongly acted and the fact this is a true story only makes the experience of watching it even more uplifting. Buy a ticket and take some tissues!

Lion opens in the USA on 25th November 2016. The UK release date is yet to be confirmed.  Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/-RNI9o06vqo

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