The ‘based on a true story’ handle is one that often requires a stretching of the truth for the sake of entertainment value. Have you ever wondered what would happen if the opposite was true where accuracy got in the way of entertainment value? The film Lion might be the answer to that question. A film that is equal parts a fascinating and moving story but also does not hold interest enough to sustain interest for the length of the film. Read on to find out if it’s worth watching.
Five-year-old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home. Yet it threatens to destroy the relationship that he already has.
Lion starts out very deliberately with the story opening with the plight of Saroo in India. The movie doesn’t shy away from his poverty, but also the love that makes that almost bearable. As Saroo is separated from his family by a case of simply falling asleep on a train, a wall of despair as he world falls apart and the story forces us into the awful plight of children living in poverty. It’s hard viewing without bombarding us with horror. It feels like quite deft story making.
When Saroo is finally adopted by an Australian family we see his life in Tasmania is the complete opposite, TVs, toys, a beach, even available parents. It doesn’t feel like opulence but its contrast feel condemning nonetheless. Yet despite that, we see a boy just absorb the love he is given like a sponge soaking up water. This is contrasted by a newer adopted younger brother for whom trauma seems to outweigh the healing property of stability and family.
Lion works in part because of its technical know-how. Australian cinematography is often classy and getting a sense of place is something done well. Whether it be the beauty of Tasmania, the chaos of India or even the longest journey before a big reunion, this is a great arsenal to the moving story. A poignant and multi-cultural soundtrack that mixes a more classical score with Indian tracks works exceedingly well.
Lion’s greatest strength is it truly is a shining example of great acting. Dev Patel as Saroo- manages to be both a man haunted while nailing a perfect Australian accent. His young counterpart Sunny Pawar is responsible for carrying a large part of the opening act of the film. His may not be a complex performance but is one with infused with emotion.
A talented supporting cast exist to flesh out the world around Saroo. David Wenham and Rooney Mara are not given a great deal to work with but their warmth is enough to make them authentic without spelling out the details of their lives. Nicole Kidman as Saroo’s adoptive mother is a bit more relatable than her usual roles and her story is not one of someone being forced into adoption but someone who chose it.
It feels like everything should work well for Lion, yet something about the movie doesn’t quite work. At first, it seemed like it was running too long. Yet it’s no more than two hours, so that couldn’t be it. The story itself is interesting and you want to see the resolution of it all.
However, it occurred to me that the plot or at the least the way the film displays it is too drawn out. One too many scenes looking at Google earth, long conversations in need of an edit or one too many sweeping scenery shots make you realised that the story is being padded out. It’s an odd mix to have an interesting story made a little dull by padding it out. Obviously, this isn’t a film based around suspense or excitement but when it allows you to switch off when you should be engaged, you can’t help but feel a little disappointed.
It only seems to be the problem of the middle act though, because once Saroo makes his discovery about where he needs to go in India, Lion finds emotion and purpose again and the final act of the film is as rich as it has ever been including the heart breaking moments of what he finds when he finally gets home.
Lion Review Cheat Sheet
In the end, Lion feels worth seeing but not really a must see. Its portrayal of poverty and of family are heart breaking but the events of its story while fascinating seem at times drawn out especially in its middle act. A much more efficient film would have greatened the impact. Solid performances throughout and beautiful cinematography only serve to illustrate how close to something special this film could have been.
+ Wondeful performances by all the cast
+ Technical achievement in cinematography and music make for a more engaging expeirence.
+ Emotional and fascinating story…
-That is dragged down by a bloated and padded middle section