Lion seems to have taken the place of that one Oscar film that no-one seems to have seen. A real shame because, as far as I’m concerned, Lion comfortably earns its place in the Best Picture category through an effectively told, and emotionally compelling true story.
Lion (2016) is a biographical drama based on the book ‘A Long Way Home’ and directed by Garth Davis. It follows the life of Saroo, played by Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel, who starts the movie as a young boy who accidentally gets on the wrong train and is lost in the sprawling mass of India. Years later, after being adopted by a loving couple from Tasmania, Australia (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), the now adult Saroo decides to close the chapter of his early life and finally find his way back to his mother and brother in India.
Lion simply screams with a story that was ripe for adaption to film. Its not hard to get emotionally invested in a boy’s struggle to find his family, and a man’s conflict on whether he should. From almost the opening scene the plot is easy to invest in and see through to the end. The film does struggle with pacing issues however – the first hour following Sunny Pawar through the tribulations of being a lost child in India is gripping and moves at a solid pace, but once Patel enters the film and the conflict moves to the maps and webpages of searching, the script feels as if its struggling for things to fill the void before the final conclusion is reached. After how well paced India was, its a noticeable gear-shift, and honestly could only be solved by cutting down on a solid 10-20 minutes of filler writer Luke Davis slipped in to pad the run-time to 2 hours. Its not that the conflict of his personal life and internal struggle isn’t essential, but that too much time is dedicated to these and other side issues while the audience twiddles their thumbs waiting for the conclusion they were promised in the first 5 minutes. That being said, when that tear-inducing finale arrives, it does make that stale pacing almost worthwhile.
While Patel may be plastered on the promotional material for the film, for the first hour the movie almost exclusively relies on the newcomer Sunny Pawar to carry the plot forward. And in all honestly, even though he barely has a credit to his name, Pawar is pretty much the star. Not only is he blissfully easy to root for, the young actor delivers a stellar performance as a child lost in a sprawling mess of a country with no way to get home. Through just a few choice words and facial expressions he manages to convey a hell of a lot, and as good as Patel is as the older Saroo, it was Pawar that really stole the show for me. Speaking of Patel he is still great, and manages to convey the internal struggle of Saroo in his young adulthood rather well even despite the script giving him iffy material to work with. As for the supporting cast, Kidman and Whenam as the kindly Brierly couple are both great, with Kidman earning her Best Supporting Actress nomination with a single weighty scene. Rooney Mara also appears in the film as Saroo’s on/off girlfriend in a rather thankless role, but does well enough with the material presented here to at least make her memorable (even if it pales in comparison to her last Oscar-nominated film Carol).
For a directorial debut to receive six Oscar nominations, you have to expect Lion to be something special. While it may falter occasionally in the second hour, this is still a strong story that’s done justice by an exceptional cast and mostly stellar script. Likely to moisten even the driest tear duct, Lion not only deserves to be Oscar nominated, but also deserves to be seen by a far wider audience.
General Audience: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
Cinema-sobbers: Highly Recommended