Lion – A film that tells a remarkably true story
Saroo Brierley’s journey is a tale of tragedy and loss, yet also a tale of hope and mercy, faith and love.
For months we’ve been hearing about Lion, a new Australian film that’s been talked up as a major contender for the awards seasons. A strong cast, international themes and a compelling and an emotionally captivating story make it easy to see why.
Lion is the feature film debut of Garth Davis, who worked alongside Jane Campion in directing the miniseries Top of the Lake. The screenplay, adapted by Luke Davies, is based on A Long Way Home, the 2014 memoir of India-Australian Saroo Brierley.
Born in into a tiny Hindi-speaking village in India in 1981, Saroo’s life is set to change through a series of unimaginable events. Like his mother and older brother Guddu, Saroo is illiterate when, on one night in 1986, he is accompanying Guddu to the nearby railway yards in search of work. Becoming separated from his brother, Saroo takes refuge on a decommissioned train that unexpectedly transports him 1600km from his home to Bengali-speaking Kolkata, a place where he can’t even speak the language.
Crucial to these early scenes is the casting of Sunny Pawar, a marvellously instinctive child actor whose naturalistic performance as five-year-old Saroo is one of Lion’s highlights. Abhishek Bharate, who plays Guddu, also gives an indelible performance. So distinctly depicted by Davis’ direction and Pawar’s performance is Saroo’s plight as a child that these scenes almost threaten to overshadow the rest of the film.
The story continues and Saroo is adopted by Hobart-based parents Sue (who is a tower of maternal tenderness) and John Brierley, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham who both make him feel at home, calming his harrowing experience. Only many years later, grown into a confident and ambitious 30-year-old, does Saroo, now played by the charismatic Dev Patel, begin to wonder about his origins. But without the name of his home town in India, or the whereabouts of his family, how is it even possible for him to trace his life back? Learning of the advent of Google Earth, Saroo starts a difficult journey to find his family.
The only pitfall of the film is the appearance of Rooney Mara as Saroo’s girlfriend whose character seems unnecessary and repetitive. This isn’t a result of her acting, but rather a storyline that could’ve been cut short.
Greig Fraser’s cinematography in Lion is the best of his career, surpassing his incredibly work in Zero Dark Thirty. Lion is not currently his only onscreen work, his cinematography for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story made for one of the series’ most beautifully filmed entries.
Lion will resonate with many in Australia, reminding us of the struggle between the place we have come from, and the place we now call home (or for many, are still trying to make their own). Visually stunning, powerful and captivating, Lion is one of the best films to reach cinemas this year.
Lion is released to Australian cinemas this Thursday 19 January.