Film review: LION, from ‘Built For Speed’

As a story of an Indian child victim of poverty desperately trying to recover a life taken from him, Lion will elicit immediate comparisons with Slumdog Millionaire. Lion, which is a true story, however, packs an even bigger emotional punch.

The film reveals how, in 1986, five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his teenage brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) became separated at a train station causing the youngster to jump aboard a train that took him more than 1,500 kilometres from his home to Calcutta. Wandering the streets, Saroo became one of the city’s thousands of homeless children until he was picked up by an orphanage and offered for adoption. When Australian couple John (David Wenham) and Sue Brierly (Nicole Kidman) adopted him he began a new life in Tasmania. Years later, a Proustian experience reawakens childhood memories for the now adult Saroo (Dev Patel) and sends him on an obsessive search for his lost family.

This film is a tear-jerker but it’s an extremely effective one. Few could fail to be moved by scenes of young Saroo’s threatening and disorientating odyssey through India’s teeming, poverty-stricken streets or the adult Saroo’s desperate quest to reclaim his identity.

Carrying much of the film, Dev Patel is excellent, powerfully embodying the anguish of someone who has had a vital part of their life ripped away. As his mother adoptive Sue Nicole Kidman is at times a little affected almost as if she’s channelling Meryl Streep’s Lindy Chamberlain. Still, in the end she makes Sue a moving and poignant figure. Particularly impressive is Rooney Mara as Saroo’s long-suffering girlfriend Lucy who despondently watches Saroo’s obsession with finding his family take control of his life. She brings a quietly compelling mix of sensitivity and rationality to the role. Divian Ladwa is also memorable as Saroo’s troubled adoptive brother Mantosh. David Wenham isn’t afforded a lot of screen time and doesn’t have the chance to make an indelible impression.

This film has a very powerful sense of place which director Garth Davis and cinematographer Greig Fraser emphasise through ravishing shots of both the Indian and Australian landscape. Some scenes have the hallucinogenic beauty of a film like Koyaanisqatsi.

Wonderfully made and emotionally stirring Lion is one of the best Australian films of recent years.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Biopic/ drama.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Garth Davis.

Release date: 19th Jan 2017.

Running time: 118 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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