Film Review: Lion (2016)

“It would take a lifetime to search all the stations in India.”

Frequently penned as one man’s search for his family via Google Maps, this story is so much more than a quick search via a location finder.

What really strikes at the heart of Lion is the lifelong search for identity even when it seems he has the perfect lifestyle and family.

Be prepared to face the desperate and developing conditions of India that are in no way glossed over. Saroo (Dev Patel) has almost an impossible task of finding his mother and brother after being left at a train station. With only one word to guide him, “Gandestalay,” and a water tower as a reference point, he must retrace his steps that fateful night and search for help when it seems no one has the time nor resources to assist him. Little Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is adorable and utterly convincing, and we think might be one to watch in the future.

We see the crowded, urbanised Indian landscape he encounters as a lost orphan compared to the sweeping mountains and forest terrains he remembers from a previous lifetime. At times the pace is stunted in the second half compared to the bustling punch of the first, but the scenery of his childhood and later on the cinematography of Melbourne and Hobart offers visual reprieve.

As a man 25 years later, Patel aces the Australian accent, and highlights the nuances of being successful in another country with the subtle, empty shell that accompanies a lost childhood. Rooney Mara does not lose her American accent (arguably an incentive for that audience) but she is pleasant enough as the love interest and partial impetus for Saroo to pursue what really happened the night he became lost.

Nicole Kidman and David Wenham are convincing and not cringeworthy as adoptive parents Sue and John, although it is unfortunate that there just happens to be an uncanny resemblance to Pauline Hanson. The conflict of searching for biological family despite already living with a loving replacement is heartfelt and contentious, and permeates the second half of the movie.

This isn’t a stock standard successful migrant story, and in no way should it be. At times, it feels like the narrative stops and starts, but by the finale, we feel the same sense of accomplishment and loss that the protagonist feels. When you reach the end of that journey, it will be worth it.

Lion rips at the heartstrings, and roars with emotion.

Verdict: 8/10

Entertainment One Films