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Lion Reviews

Reviewed By: Tim Holland

Lion is the true story of an Indian man named Saroo who, as a five-year-old boy in 1986, is separated from his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) late one night at a railway station, and ends up on a deserted, decommissioned train headed to Calcutta, nearly 1000 miles away from his home in central India. There, Saroo finds himself surrounded by bustling hordes of strangers who speak a language he doesn't understand. Making things worse, he doesn't know his own last name or the correct pronunciation of the town where his impoverished family live. He wanders Calcutta's crowded streets (where he's rudely treated or ignored), searches and begs for food, sleeps on a thin piece of cardboard in a dingy tunnel, and escapes human traffickers. He eventually winds up in a harshly run juvenile facility that resembles a prison and then an orphanage, but he's finally adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham, both excellent) who take him to their home in Tasmania, where he adjusts -- literally -- to a whole new world. It's a fascinating journey of Dickensian proportions, and it's made all the more captivating by newcomer Sunny Pawar, who delivers a tender, powerful performance as the young Saroo.Unfortunately, Pawar disappears at Lion's midway point when the narrative suddenly leaps forward 20 years, after which Saroo is played by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame. No offense to Patel, but the adult version of this character isn't nearly as interesting as his younger self. The grown-up Saroo moves to Melbourne to study hotel management and falls for a cute American classmate named Lucy (an underused Rooney Mara). He also becomes obsessed with finding his birth mother (he apparently never knew his estranged father), using Google Earth as his guide in an attempt to pinpoint his hometown that takes several years. However, that app, as remarkable as it is, doesn't make for great cinema. It ultimately renders Saroo's search mostly inert, and leaves him and the audience feeling sluggish. Occasional flashbacks featuring Pawar briefly lift the movie's latter stages, but they aren't enough to overcome the second half's flat tone. Just when Lion should build in intensity and find its roar, it meanders.Thankfully, director Garth Davis (Top of the Lake) and screenwriter Luke Davies (adapting Saroo Brierley's memoir A Long Way Home) correct course in the film's waning minutes when Saroo finally locates his hometown and flies there. He brings a picture of his younger self and shows it to locals while making inquiries about his mother. No spoilers here as to what he then discovers and the impact it has on him, but just be warned that a handy supply of tissues is recommended.