You would have to be mostly dead inside to not have a nearly immediate emotional reaction to Garth Davis’ stunning true life story Lion. I was a personal disaster all throughout this film; it hit me with blunt-force impact and I can’t stop thinking about the film and its message and how life throws insane curve-balls to many, many people. Confidently directed by Garth Davis in his big-screen debut and written with sensitivity and open honesty by Luke Davies, this magnificent piece of work certainly tugs on your heartstrings, but how could it not? The tragic yet uplifting story of Saroo Brierley and how he was separated from his family as a child only to be reunited as a young man, Lion is soul-stirring cinema, and because Davis doesn’t force any one particular aspect too hard, the entire film feels honorably cathartic by the poignant conclusion.
Greig Fraser’s gorgeous cinematography finds beauty in some truly horrific situations, and the sweeping musical score by Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka builds and swells yet never overpowers. The central performances by Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel are both superb, especially Pawar, who imbued his character with a plucky sense of resourcefulness and grace under pressure that I found positively astonishing to observe; I can’t imagine most five year-old children acting in the same manner as the real Brierley did, and it was nearly overwhelming to get a condensed glimpse of his 25 year journey. Nicole Kidman was also excellent as the adoptive mother; she even got to rock out with her classic frizzy-red pseudo-afro, while still looking all sorts of porcelain-doll beautiful.
Lion, intentionally or not, doesn’t paint a particularly inviting portrait of India as a country, and the postscript includes a note that 80,000 children are reported missing every year in the country. Shot on location in India and Australia on a $12 million budget, Lion grossed over $130 million worldwide and got nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture. This is the type of moving, life-affirming cinema that more people should be checking out as a reminder that existence, for most of us, is a privileged experience.
Review by Nick Clement