By Justin Cudahy, Contributor
Based on a true story, Lion chronicles the life of Saroo Brierly, who was separated from his family at the age of 5 after accidentally falling asleep on a passenger train that departed during mid-sleep in his hometown of Khandwa, India. Twenty years later, while living in Australia with his adoptive family, Saroo begins to a search to find his origins using only Google Earth, and what he can remember. What follows is an emotional rollercoaster of a tale that touches upon themes of determination and family.
The film is split into two acts, with the first focusing on Saroo’s separation from his family and detailing his journey alone in Calcutta, 1,200 miles away from home. Eight-year-old Sunny Pawar makes his acting debut in Lion portraying the young Saroo and does a phenomenal job accurately depicting to the audience the kind of mindset and emotions a kid may have who is unable to find his family. The things he experiences during his time alone on the streets of Calcutta are almost frightening to watch, which includes run-ins with slave rings for kids, poverty, abduction and more which is even more shocking to see when you realize that this is based on a true story. Director Garth Davis does a great job, especially in this half of the movie, creating some beautiful imagery and showing off the gorgeous, yet also brutish landscapes and lifestyles of Calcutta.
The second act of the film is where it tends to fall. Set 20 years later, we now see a much older and different Saroo, played by Dev Patel, who plays a rather unconvincing resemblance of an older version of Sonny Pawar. Regardless, Patel does a phenomenal job and was recognized for it during the Golden Globes when he was nominated, along with costar Nicole Kidman, who plays Saroo’s adoptive mother, for best-supporting actor and actress. Despite the superb performances, this doesn’t change the fact that the second act felt rather forced, instead of being more drawn out as compared to the first act. This part of the film focuses on Saroo’s search for his hometown when he discovers that he can use Google Earth to do so. Being forced to rely solely on memories, he narrows it down to search radius of 1,600 miles of land, making it seem near impossible to find.
As interesting as it sounds, the film is forced to introduce other plot lines within, including one with a love interest played by Rooney Mara, which weakens the movie. Often following an important or emotional scene, the film gets drowned out afterward due to extended scenes that tend to drag and make the audience go from teary-eyed to just straight boredom. This is a cycle that repeats itself often throughout, in both acts, but more often in the latter part.
While the second act may not be as strong as the first, Lion is still a fantastic movie. You’ll laugh at some parts, and cry at others. If you don’t find yourself choked up or teary eyed by the film’s final scene, you aren’t human.