How far would you go to uncover the answers of your past? How much would those questions consume you? In Lion, Saroo Brierly is faced with having to answer these questions.
Saroo is a five year-old boy from a poor family in a small village in India. Like many young boys, he idolizes his older brother Guddu. Regularly Guddu and Saroo go out and perform various tasks around town to earn some money to help their day laborer mother support their family. While Guddu does everything he can, including the heavier work, Saroo wants to help. So one day when Guddu goes to his more labor-intensive work, Saroo talks him into allowing him to join against his protests. When Saroo falls asleep on the way and then wanders onto a train looking for his older brother, he finds himself trapped on the train as it leaves town. Arriving days later in Calcutta and unable to speak the local Bengali, he finds himself a lost child. He avoids a few dangers that face young homeless children, but soon winds up in an orphanage. Fortunately for young Saroo, an Australian couple soon adopts him and takes him home.
Fast forward a couple decades and Saroo is a grown man working in the hotel industry. He makes friends and develops a romantic interest in the industry. From these friends, he one day gets the inspiration to try to find his family with Google Earth. He uses approximate distance that the train would have traveled to map out possible locations of his childhood home. Soon enough, getting the answer consumes Saroo’s time and energy. He spends day and night trying to locate his home as he struggles with intense emotions that have been unearthed as he reconnects to his origin. He knows that the only thing that will quiet this turmoil within him is finding his family.
Lion presents an emotionally powerful tale. A young boy through a mistaken action is separated from his family and is unable to return home. In the first half of the movie, we focus on the young Saroo and his struggles. Sunny Pawar plays the younger Saroo and is surprisingly capable with all the screentime focused on him. Despite this being his first film and being rather young, Sunny effectively carries this portion of the story. Coupled with the directing, his performance helps the viewer feel the panic in the child and the desperation in being lost. You understand and feel for his troubles and what he has to fight through.
Some of the panic and danger fades in the second half of the film when Dev Patel takes over as the older Saroo. When we first see the adult Saroo, he describes himself as an Australian and not as an Indian. He seems to have at least superficially left behind his Indian heritage for the Australian life he grew up in. As such, Patel effortlessly portrays him as a serious and well-adjusted young professional. It isn’t until Saroo begins his search that Patel is able to really stretch his legs performance-wise. He shows a growing desperation as he loses his grip on the world. Patel clearly looks like a man who is aching inside and dying to find a solution. He really does carry the movie for the last forty minutes or so and you do believe it in the journey.
It is no understatement that Lion is one long punch to the heart. It tries to make you feel, but it isn’t ham fisted in its approach. Actually, it feels rather sincere. All of the characters are believable and Saroo’s journey is easy to buy into. His inner conflict on how to deal with his adoptive parents during his search feels authentic. And from all the adoptive parents I’ve known, the parents portrayed by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham also feel real. Even Rooney Mara’s character is believable and sympathetic.
The direction is also strong while not overpowering. It never overshadowed the performance or forced anything. Despite some beautiful shots, the directing probably best shows up when it takes you into the discussion between two characters.
Lion is an interesting entry to me. I always enjoy biographical films, but I rarely have interest in keeping them. However, I think Lion holds certain characteristics that make it worth watching more in the future. Between the compelling story and the performances in front of and behind the screen, I think this has some staying power that a lot of other biographical films don’t. And it manages to do so in a package that will make you feel a wide range of emotions throughout.
Picture Quality: 4/5
Lion looks like it doesn’t have many issues in the image. It does look rather drag through most of it, but that appears to be the intentional tone of the movie. Given this tint put on the video, skin tones look proper and true. The surrounding backgrounds look as they should. There are a few hiccups here and there with the blacks being a bit off, but nothing too worrisome. Occasionally the clarity of the image falls a little short, but mostly it is solid.
Audio Quality: 4/5
Not surprising, Lion has a pretty good DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. The track is very active, making good use of the surround. The power is good and gives elements what they deserve throughout the film. The score plays rather well on this track as well. And thankfully so, as the music is a vital partner in the film’s emotion. The one weakness is the dialog. The dialog is inconsistent. I noticed many times in the film where dialog was not as audible as it should be. There was even a time or two that I needed the subtitles. That is a disappointing knock on an otherwise superb track.
Packaging and Special Features: 3/5
Deleted Scenes: I am normally not a fan of deleted scenes, but I would have been interested in seeing how two out of the three of these would have fit in the movie and if they could have added to the presentation.
Behind the Scenes Gallery: This is most interesting feature. The five parts cover interviews from the talent behind the film.
- A Conversation with Saroo Brierly – This is a horse’s mouth telling of the story behind the movie.
- Dev Patel – This is a conversation with Patel about why he joined the movie and what he thought going into it.
- Nicole Kidman – This is focused on Kidman’s role and how it relates to her own experiences as an adoptive mother.
- Director Garth Davis – Garth’s thoughts on the story and the cast involved.
- Making the Music – Hauschka and Dustin O’Halloran on discussing the music composed for the film. Worth having here since the music is a strong component of the film’s power.
Official Lyric Video: Music video of Sia’s “Never Give Up”
Packaging is pretty standard for a major release. Single disc release with a slipcover featuring the same artwork as the case art.
I think Lion is worth a watch by everyone. It is hard to recommend a blind buy in this day and age, but I think this one is rewarding enough. I wouldn’t recommend day one pricing, but it is certainly worth $15 or so. The technical presentation is rather good despite a few flaws. The supplements add some depth to the package and are worth the time. I wholeheartedly recommend this film to pretty much anybody.