15th October 2016 3.00pm at Picturehouse Central
16th October 2016 9.00pm at Vue West End
The most impressive thing about Lion isn’t its actors – Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, who are both likely to win nominations – but the way that it keeps them off-screen for the best part of an hour. The story starts in Calcutta, and follows a five-year-old Indian boy, Saroo (Sunny Pawar), who helps his brother steal coal from the reserves of trains, which wins them precious milk. They are desperately poor. One day, he goes with his brother on a dangerous night time raid; after falling asleep on a cargo train, he wakes up to find himself hurtling across the country, with no way to escape.
Saroo – unable to speak Bengali, and unable to remember the proper name of his home town – bounces from place to place, sleeping on the streets, enduring unimaginable hardship. Salvation comes when an Australian couple – Sue (Kidman, with terrible hair) and John (David Wenham) – adopt him and another troubled Indian boy. He grows into Patel, whose happiness as an affluent adult is diluted by his instinctive desire to find home.
The scenes in Calcutta are well shot, and while the film is sometimes content to coast on Pawar’s cuteness, it’s by far the most effective section; near-wordless scenes of child poverty are realistic and more than a little heartbreaking. The problems come in Australia. Patel’s Saroo is needlessly opaque: he starts a relationship with fellow student Rooney Mara, but the tale skims over important character development, content to have this defined by slow-motion scenes set to Dustin O’Halloran’s atmospheric score. Oscar-worthy speeches come and go, in scenes that are perfectly measured for a clip in a montage. And when Saroo’s attempts to find his home pay off – in an extended advert for Google Earth – the resolution is triggered by an act of God; close to the truth, maybe, but a screenwriting no-no.
Still, Lion is naturally inspiring, and the conclusion is underplayed nicely. With its themes of family, memory and the depths of cultural roots, it will likely resonate with its intended audience. It’s just a shame this weepie is such an uneven viewing experience.
Lion does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the 60th London Film Festival visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Lion here: