Lion, at first glance, has a cracking set of credentials. A blockbuster cast of newcomers and screen veterans? An unbelievable true story that spans decades and continents? A nifty use of the internet and train maps to change lives? OK – that might just appeal to tech enthusiasts and geographers, but generally something on that list should catch your eye. The obvious fear is Lion amounts to nothing more than a calculated shot at sweeping the Oscars – but fear not: award-baiting is the least of Lion’s problems.
First, the good. Sunny Pawar is adorable as young Saroo – his journey from a rural village in India to Calcutta and eventually Tasmania is enthralling and heartbreaking. However, although it’s necessary to set up Saroo’s tumultuous relationship to home, this first act is overly long, and it’s a welcome shift when Lion jumps forward. Unfortunately, we don’t spend nearly enough time in the present, meaning that despite Dev Patel’s best efforts, adult Saroo veers between likability and melodrama as he abruptly dives into an obsessive search for home.
An able cast are mostly wasted here. Rooney Mara brings some spark, but is promptly relegated to ‘concerned girlfriend’ status, and while Nicole Kidman gets a handful of great scenes, she and onscreen hubby David Wenham are left on the sidelines with Mara. While Lion doesn’t do its secondary characters justice, it does manage to tie Saroo’s arc across the film together – and Pawar and Patel deserve the lion’s share (ha!) of the credit for this remarkable feat.
Ultimately, a messy structure and jittery pacing leaves Lion feeling incoherent, with characters and subplots falling out of view as the film races towards an admittedly tearjerking end. Despite a fascinating premise, a roaring success this certainly isn’t.
CAST: Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel, David Wenham
DIRECTOR: Garth Davis
WRITERS: Luke Davies (screenplay), Saroo Brierley & Larry Buttrose (novel)
SYNOPSIS: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometres from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.