InReview InReview

Support independent journalism

Film & TV

Film review: Lion

Film & TV

Highly promoted new Australian film Lion lives up to its promise, writes Rachael Mead … but you might need to take the tissues.

Comments Print article

Lion is a beautiful and heart-wrenching film that follows the true story of an Indian child, Saroo, who is tragically separated from his family in India, then adopted by a loving family in Tasmania.

Twenty-five years later, Saroo, who now identifies as Australian rather than Indian, uses Google Earth to locate his village in India and reunite with his birth family.

The film is divided into two parts, the first following Saroo’s harrowing experience as a five-year-old (played by Sunny Pawar) when he becomes trapped on a train and ends up lost and alone in the teeming city of Kolkata, 1600km from his home.

Unable to speak the language, he survives as a beggar, and after several narrow escapes from enslavement he ends up in an orphanage, which to Australian sensibilities seems more like a prison. Fortunately, Saroo gets away from the orphanage through being adopted by Tasmanian Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham).

Sunny Pawar lights up the screen as the young Saroo.

Sunny Pawar lights up the screen as the young Saroo.

In the second half of the film, we follow adult Saroo (Dev Patel) as he is drawn into what becomes an obsessive quest to find his birth family, with the help and support of his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara).

Lion is an Australian production, adapted from Saroo Brierley’s memoir A Long Way Home by the deft screenwriting of Luke Davies and skilfully directed by Garth Davis, whose most recent project was co-directing the TV series Top of the Lake with Jane Campion.

There is much to appreciate while watching this film. Greig Fraser’s cinematography is superb, with the Kolkata scenes of urban poverty powerfully evoking Saroo’s feelings of alienation and loss.  Lion is visually stunning cinema, and Davis perfectly balances Fraser’s shots of sweeping aerial landscapes of both India and Tasmania with striking close-up work of the main characters.

The exquisite score manages to tread the line between being emotive and dramatic without falling into schmaltz.

But the standout element of the film is the performance of Sunny Pawar. He is simply astonishing, lighting up the screen with his presence.  The Indian cast is brilliant, especially the actors playing Saroo’s brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) and mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose), but Pawar’s performance makes even Dev Patel’s mastery of the Australian accent pale by comparison.

With such a storyline it would be easy for the film to tip over into sentimental melodrama. Davis exercises incredible cinematic control, managing to dramatise Saroo’s loss of cultural identity and internal conflict with subtlety and nuance.

The film’s final scenes might feel a little predictable, but overall Lion is an admirable example of the way a personal story can shed light on broader issues such as identity, poverty and global inequality. I defy anyone to see this film without needing to break out the tissues.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here


Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard

More Film & TV stories

Loading next article