Lion is an Uplifting Tale of Self Discovery
Garth Davis’ fact based biographical Lion gets everything right where many of its contemporaries make missteps. Stories in this genre, the inspirational true life drama, often miss the forest for the trees. Preoccupied with the faithful recreation of events, character development is overlooked and viewers are left feeling like they never got to know the protagonist. That is not the case in Lion, as Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel deliver a shared lead role with genuine performances and honest emotion that is the cornerstone of the film.
Lion is the true story of Saroo Brierley, a 5 year old boy living in poverty, but living happily with his older brother Guddu and his mother in the Madhya Pradesh state of India. Saroo is always following the footsteps of his big brother, and one day accompanies Guddu into town and into the local train station to search for work, money, food…whatever they can find. Separated from his brother aboard a freight train, he is shipped hundreds of miles away from his home into a part of India he doesn’t know, that speaks a language he cannot understand. As attempts to find his way home become more and more futile; he is put into an orphanage and adopted by a Tasmanian couple. Whisked away to an unfamiliar place and raised in leisure; Saroo cannot forget the life and family he left behind. Finding out the truth about himself and his past is the itch he must eventually scratch.
While Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) may be the established Hollywood star; his younger counterpart, Sunny Pawar, is a worthy co-star as the young Saroo who finds himself lost in an unfamiliar Calcutta. Whether the credit should go to Pawar, or also to director Garth Davis and his direction; Pawar shoulders the first half of this film with real acting chops. His mousy voice, precocious demeanor, and diminutive stature; set against the backdrop of the immense metropolis he is lost in, is enthralling and forms the emotional core from which viewers will think back to later on, as they obsess alongside Dev Patel’s adult Saroo.
The second half of the film, Dev Patel shows the quiet pain that aches in the twenty-something Saroo. Consumed with finding answers, Patel’s muted and agonized performance illustrates the internal struggle that is overwhelming Saroo. He cannot move on until he can find closure, but finding a mother and brother half way across the world in an Indian village he can’t even remember the name of feels insurmountable. He is helpless.
Everywhere Saroo goes, he is haunted by the visage of his brother Guddu. He has to live knowing that he was not given away voluntarily, he was lost. His mother and brother are out there, somewhere in the vastness, waiting for him. Patel’s work here communicates the relentlessness, the guilt, the turmoil that boils in Saroo without making histrionic missteps that lesser actors might. Writer Luke Davies and Director Garth Davis collaborate with Patel to not just show Saroo’s obsession for answers, but make that obsession our own as well.
The sights and sounds of India are highlighted in Lion and collectively form the film’s strong craftwork. Lion begins with the sounds of bugs buzzing in the air, the cool river water rippling by the village, the chant of distant religious zealots, the rock mounds that Guddu and Saroo play in…and that is where Saroo must go to find his answers. Garth Davis captures more than just the physical locale of rural India, he captures its character and its life.
Lion is a rock-steady biographical film about questions that must be answered, no matter the cost. Dev Patel and Sunny Pawar give equally knockout performances as Saroo, and Garth Davis delivers one of the best films of 2016.
- Screenwriting: 9/10 – Strong character development while keeping honest to the facts
- Sound Editing: 10/10 – Close your eyes and you can hear India
- Directing: 8/10 – Got the most out of Lion’s nonprofessional cast, and gave the stars free rein to shine
- Acting: 10/10 – The dual performances of Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel are some of the year’s best
9/10, Strong performances from dual leads Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel deliver an emotionally resonant true life biographical film about family and identity.