Get those hankies at the ready. The tears may well fall. Lion, which features the billboard-worthy cast of Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman, is weighted with emotional heft. This true story has its sentimental gravitas enabled by skilful engagement with the dramatic gear changes for character investment. You want to care, and you do.
To the untrained eye it wouldn’t be apparent, but Lion is actually Garth Edwards first feature film. The tale centres on a small Indian boy (Saroo) who fell asleep on a train one night in 1986. He awoke to find it hurtling along down the track, eventually landing 1600km from home. Lost and alone in Calcutta, he was unable to communicate his plight, because he couldn’t speak the Bengalese dialect. He was quickly ushered into an orphanage, and from there he was adopted by a kind Australian couple. 25 years later, he set about to find his biological family.
The responsibility for representing the elder Saroo falls to Patel. Post-breakthrough performance in Danny Boyle’s hit Slumdog Millionaire, he has become a familiar on-screen presence, imbuing his innate charisma on a frequent basis, including the monstrously successful Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films. What is perhaps less well-traversed and known is the range that he has to offer. As Lion progresses, we find an actor expressing frustration, displacement and unease. He does well. Commendation should also fall to the young Saroo, played by infant newcomer, Sunny Pawar, who is a charm. It is even more astonishing to realise that, for the first third of the film, Pawar must carry the drama alone. Kidman is reliably sturdy as the compassionate foster parent.
Whilst it would be easy to embrace the sneering cynic and charge this film of engaging in the pitfalls of melodrama, it would be a disservice to the viewer to do so, as you would shut yourself out of a poignant experience. One must refrain (where possible) from presenting the tired adjective ‘life-affirming’, but this fits the charge. The unmistakable sound of sniffles and the sight of tissues being introduced to the eyes were spotted around the cinema come the close. This will be something repeated elsewhere, there is no doubt. A touching story well told.