dir Garth Davis
scr Luke Davies
prd Iain Canning, Angie Fielder, Emile Sherman
with Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar, Priyanka Bose, Abhishek Bharate, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Divian Ladwa, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Pallavi Sharda
release US 25.Nov.16, UK 20.Jan.16
16/Australia Weinstein 2h01
Who am I? Mara and Patel

kidman wenham
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Lion A powerful true story makes this film riveting as it explores the nature of memory, identity and responsibility. It's fiercely well-acted, and shot in locations that add layers of impact to the complex narrative. The movie feels over-long, and director Garth Davis has a tendency to overreach for emotional moments, but the strength of the events themselves makes it well worth a look.

At age 5, Saroo (Pawar) talks big brother Guddu (Bharate) into taking him along on a trip. But they're soon separated, and Saroo ends up on a train to Calcutta, 1600 kilometres from home and unable to remember the name of his village. Taken into care, he's adopted by Sue and John (Kidman and Wenham) in Tasmania, raised as an Australian with adoptive brother Mantosh (Ladwa). Some 20 years later, Saroo (now Patel) begins the search for his long-lost mother (Bose). And he struggles to let his parents or girlfriend Lucy (Mara) share his quest.

Saroo's story is so compelling that it can't help but pull the audience in, from his harrowing experiences as a child to his difficult search as a young adult. Along the way are people impact his life in both positive and rather scary ways, and since these are real events it's not as clear-cut as expected. His childhood memories hint at dangers narrowly averted, and his grown-up moodiness makes it difficult to understand why he puts so much strain on his relationships.

The expressive young Pawar is a real discovery. And Patel cleverly inhabits the physicality of an ethnic Indian raised as an Aussie. He's charming and open-handed with his emotions, allowing us to see so much in his eyes that the swirling flashbacks become unnecessary. His scenes with Kidman and Wenham, both on top form, have undercurrents of real intensity, especially as they grapple with the racial component. But the real power the actors bring out the dynamic between them has nothing to do with skin colour.

This delicate balance seems to have caused some problems for the filmmakers, who sideline Mantosh's story and also never quite get to grips with Saroo's relationship with Lucy. There's also a tendency to play up the story's more emotive moments by appealing to the sentimentality in both mother-son connections. On the other hand, these are genuinely pungent links that have real meaning. And they are further deepened in a telling coda, which documents the story with real-life footage.

cert pg themes 23.Nov.16

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