Starring: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman
Director: Garth Davis
Running Time: 118 mins
Lion is an Australian film about a young boy who finds himself lost in the city of Calcutta, over 1,000km away from his home in rural India. 25 years later, after having been adopted by an Australian family, he decides to find his lost family.
This film really surprised me. Whilst its premise led to me expect something clichéd, cheesy and preachy, I was delighted to see that it pulls everything together to make a genuinely touching and wonderfully elegant film. Its story still has some dark drama to it, but director Garth Davis brilliantly mixes that with the lighter side of the story, making for an absolutely fantastic watch.
Let’s start with what really stood out for me here, the directing. Half of the film is set in the poorest parts of India in the 1980s, a location that you wouldn’t expect to make for a particularly enjoyable watch. However, director Garth Davis plays a masterstroke with his depiction of India.
Whilst never cheapening and lessening the seriousness of the issues of poverty and street children, there’s something incredibly elegant and beautiful about the whole first act. The sheer scale of India is immediately apparent, taking a very short young boy and placing him in the middle of an enormous country, as well as its uniquely frantic and haphazard characteristics.
It’s not the sort of film that you’d call visually beautiful, nor does it look at the nicer side of one of the most vibrant countries in the world, but what it does do is take a very sad and often heart-wrenching story and give it an incredible grace that I’ve not really seen before.
Of course, the story is another part of the film that really plays a big part in making it so moving. Again, the first act is definitely the best part of the whole movie, given its very simple yet riveting and emotionally powerful focus on a young boy completely lost in a different world. The second act, set in Australia, doesn’t always have the same sense of drama and elegance, but it still features a slow-building tension in our main character that sets up a short but stunning finale, brilliantly tying the whole film together.
Along with that, the performances here are excellent. The first act is far more focused on delivering a wider, more cinematic experience, and as such Sunny Pawar’s performance doesn’t play as big a role (although he’s still absolutely fantastic in bringing across this boy’s sense of confusion and loss).
In the second act, however, the performances really come into their own. Dev Patel is fantastic as the boy at an older age, now thinking back to birth family and wrestling with the frustration of not being able to find them, something that Patel brings across brilliantly in the film’s latter stages. Alongside him, Nicole Kidman gives a small but impressively understated performance as his adoptive mother, and Rooney Mara shines too in a much smaller yet important role as his girlfriend.
If there is one problem that I do have with Lion, however, it’s that it feels a little too long. There’s a period of about twenty minutes early on in the second act that doesn’t have the same riveting power as the rest of the film, and although I was still fully engrossed, it did add heavily to what isn’t the fastest-moving film you’ll ever see.
That said, Lion was a wonderful surprise for me. Its story has some fantastically riveting drama that ranges from sad to happy throughout, whilst its strong performances and incredibly elegant directing make it an even more memorable watch, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.2 overall.