By John Corrado
★★★½ (out of 4)
Based on the true story of Saroo Brierly’s journey to reconnect with his birth family after getting lost on the crowded streets of India over twenty years earlier, Lion is a moving and inspiring drama.
The first half of the film follows Saroo as a young boy (Sunny Pawar), who gets separated from his older brother (Abhishek Bharate) and ends up on a train for several days that takes him to Calcutta, where he doesn’t speak the language and is largely ignored like the rest of the street kids.
Then he gets taken to an orphanage and is adopted by a couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) in Australia. The second half of the film takes place over two decades later, with Saroo as a young adult (Dev Patel) who has settled into a comfortable life, having a girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and getting a college degree.
But he is still searching for unanswered questions about his past, and with the help of Google Earth, he starts mapping out every train station that he possibly could have gotten on, despite barely remembering the name of the small village where he lived, meticulously retracing the journey he took as a child to reconnect with the family that he lost. Although a few elements of Saroo’s early life in India have been glossed over here from his excellent book A Long Way Home, which can make the beginning of the film feel a bit rushed, Lion is an engaging and often stirring retelling of this incredible true story.
The film is carried on the shoulders of both Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel, who deliver a pair of excellent performances that compliment each other quite nicely. Sunny Pawar perfectly portrays both the wide-eyed innocence and terror of being lost that was felt by Saroo as a young boy, and Dev Patel brilliantly depicts him as a young man haunted by his past, struggling to reconcile the love he has for his adoptive parents with his intense need to reconnect with his birth family. It’s his best work since Slumdog Millionaire. Nicole Kidman is also strong in her emotionally demanding supporting role.
Although this is a film that might seem poised to capitalize on awards season, with a release date timed to court eligible voters, the emotion it offers feels genuine. Directed by Garth Brooks, Lion is a powerful and well acted drama that does a good job of recounting these true events, offering many emotional scenes as it builds towards the moving and ultimately uplifting final moments.
Lion is now playing in limited release at Varsity Cinemas in Toronto.