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LION – The Mane Attraction

LION

Directed by Garth Davis
Starring Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman 

7.5/10

Based on the autobiographical account of Saroo Brierley, Lion is a film about one man’s quest to relocate his birth family across continents and a stretch of decades. Separated from his family as a very young child, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) finds himself thousands of miles away and trying to eek out an existence on the streets of Calcutta. Eventually he is placed in an orphanage, and with all hope of finding his family fading, adopted by the Australian family of Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Whenam). Twenty years later the adult Saroo (played by Dev Patel) finds himself haunted by dreams of his missing family, and turns to the newly available technology of Google Earth to try and trace back that original train journey that separated him from his mother, so as to find his home again.

This is one of those films that leads with its heart, and is richly rewarding for it. By the end of the movie, a cursory glance of the cinema will reveal no dry eye in the place. Lion certainly wields the power to make the audience feel a surge of emotions, and is effective in using that. In part it’s due to the knowledge that a true story shaped this tale (and real footage used in the end credits, provokes some of the most emotional responses from the audience). In part this is because of Lion’s slow build through out the film, working for those end minutes. In part this is due to the excellent stagecraft of both Dev Patel and Sunny Pawar keeping a continuity of expression in Saroo. In both actors you can see the same urge for their quest, as well as the same gentle loving soul.

Between them, they bisect this movie. The first half driven by Pawar’s fevered quest to return home. His silent determination as he survives and escapes the multiple problems in his path, sometimes by luck, often by bravery and stubbornness. Patel by contrast brings a confidence and casual ease to the older Saroo, one that is slowly demolished as the story progresses and his dreams grow more haunted. By the last act of the film he is again fervently driven, but somewhat broken by the realized enormity of his task. Those plaintive moments where Patel tries to reconnect and explain to his adopted parents (wonderfully played by Kidman and Whenam) are heart-breaking.

A visually stunning piece, the cinematography compliments the vast emotional impact of the film, making Lion something special. A marvelous piece of Australian cinema, but be warned to pack tissues.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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