Country: Australia, USA, UK
Language: English, Bengali, Hindi
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Garth Davis
Writer: Luke Davies
based on the book A LONG WAY HOME by Saroo Brierley
Cinematography: Greig Fraser
A heartening and incredible true story about an Indian man Saroo, in 1986, at the age of 5 (Pawar), he inadvertently hopped on an empty train in the night which later streaked for 3 days to Calcutta, thousands miles away from where he comes from. Failed to express the right name of his hometown, Saroo strays on the street, and had narrow escapes from human traffickers and unscrupulous people with an insidious agenda. Eventually he is put into a cramped orphanage and the next year, he would adopted by an Australian couple Sue (Kidman) and John (Wenham) living in the ethereal Tasmania island. This is the first half of LION, a feature debut from Australian filmmaker Garth Davis, which has charmed with six Oscar nominations including BEST PICTURE.
The second half, jumps bluntly to 20 years later, Saroo (played by a unkempt and burly Patel), battles the flitting fragments of his vague past, decides to dredge up his memory lane and look for his family in India, thanks to Google Earth (a miracle actually actualized by the advancement of digital era), he fortuitously retread his voyage back to the starting point, and a final reunion comes 25 years after, some are still there waiting for him and some has been long gone. That is a tearjerker in full swing, yet, this reviewer is dry-eyed. How come?
Sunny Pawar, a boy wonder in his first film role, carries on the first half with astounding mettle and age-defying gravitas, glints with street-smart when he sniffs something iffy, and runs like (literally) his life depends on it, Saroo’s urchin days are so perilous, but what emits from his expressive eyes is the undimmed conviction of going back home. Although, accountably, it seems that in order to adhere to Saroo’s memoir, the film stays firmly from Saroo’s 5-year-older angle, which leaves certain lacunae in the process, a glaring one is why Saroo has the potluck to be chosen out of others in the same plight, which could have been tapped into since that is the more pressing issue viewers are interested in.
Unfortunately, the film takes a downward spiral when Saroo’s journey abruptly relayed to adulthood, don’t get me wrong, Dev Patel has done an amazing job to keep Saroo’s emotional outpourings simmering and unfolding, but the vigor and rhythm percolating the first half start to fizzle out (even the camera lumbers against a drabber palette), when danger and hunger is superseded by civilization and comfort. So as if to create a narrative momentum of conflict, Lucy (Mara), Saroo’s girlfriend appears timely to be the devil’s advocate in a pretty lame way, not just because there is absolutely nothing contentious for a man setting up his mind to look for his lost family if he can find some clue, what else can his girlfriend to do apart from supporting his decision? But also, their romantic involvement is so tenuously orchestrated, chemistry is awkwardly wanting, might just as well being wholly jettisoned. The inaction of the second part drags too long because there are name stars in it, Nicole Kidman de-glamorizes herself in an affecting transmutation into a caring mother with a philanthropic devotion, notwithstanding, padding it out is a default maneuver, but there are missed opportunities, for instance, Mantosh (Ladwa), Saroo’s damaged adopted brother, whose own unrevealed jeremiad would have been better mined to give the second half a thrust.
As a populist crowd-pleaser, LION – its title refers to Saroo’s mispronounced real name Sheru, which means lion in Hindi, is a bespoke Oscar-player in its build-in configuration, but a lesser succès d’estime to be fairly entitled as “one of the year;s best”, even by the Hollywood yardstick.
referential point: Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008, 8.1/10)