The Watchers

The Watchers

Monday, 30 January 2017

Review: Lion (UK Cert PG)

Biopics are pretty much catnip to the awards organisations, so it's not been any surprise that Lion has been up for loads of awards. 

It's the very moving true story of Saroo Brierley, a young man who- as a boy- got separated from his family in rural India, found himself alone in Calcutta and put in an orphanage, before eventually being adopted by an Australian couple. As he grew up, Saroo always wondered about his birth family and eventuall started using Google Earth to try and track his biological family down. 

I will happily admit to a few tears along the way, such is the power of the story. I never felt blatantly emotionally manipulated by the film, which is a credit to Luke Davies' script (adapted from Saroo's memoir) and to the amazing performances by the talented ensemble cast.

I am always a bit wary about films which have child actors as a main part of the story, in case the child comes across as annoying, too cutesy, too saccharine or an old soul in a young body (which can be irritating). However, Lion has a real star in the making in Sunny Pawar, the young actor who plays Saroo as a child. Your heart absolutely breaks for him as he's left alone in a huge, noisy city with people who speak a language he can't understand. The film also adeptly shows the dangers that street children can face (from being abducted or chased by the police); there isn't any kind of sugar-coating to make Saroo's estrangement palatable. The other main child actor Abhishek Bharate, who plays Saroo's biological older brother Guddu, is also very strong and the two young actors have a real believable rapport.

I am a huge fan of Nicole Kidman and have been for over 20 years (I kind of fell in love with her a bit when I first saw Batman Forever) but her performance here as Sue Brierley, Saroo's adoptive mother, is one of her strongest performances to date. There's one particular scene- a conversation between Sue and the adult Saroo, where they talk about adopting children rather than having their own- which was the first time I cried during the film. It's a warm, loving performance which helps to form the emotional backbone of the film and she's equally matched by David Wenham as her husband John. 

As the adult Saroo, struggling with the weight of his past and determined to find the truth, Dev Patel is also strong. Conflicted between what he sees as a privileged upbringing, miles away from his own home, Patel's performance is honest and authentic. As Saroo's girlfriend Lucy, Rooney Mara adds yet another accomplished performance to her filmography. Supportive of Saroo's quest, even at the cost of their relationship, Lucy is there as the parts of the story start to come together. 

This is director Garth Davis' feature film debut (having directed television, documentary and short films before). It's a quietly assured debut which saw a surprise nomination by the Directors' Guild of America earlier this month. Whilst I can't describe the film as 'feel-good' (there's a real current of bittersweetness that runs through the film, even at the end), it's uplifting and it's emotional. Go see it, but make sure you bring a tissue or two.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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