Holy crap, Google can really can do it all. The fact that a kid was able to reunite with his family 25 years after losing them and doing so with only the help of Google Earth and vague memories from when he was five years old is already astonishing, how’s the movie? Surely it seems like your typical Oscar-fare and in a way it is, but what first-time director Garth Davis is able to pull out of this emotionally charged story speaks to the affecting power of cinema. He carves his story like an epic, with the first hour of the film depicting Saroo’s separation like an odyssey involving grief and confusion that takes place in India, meanwhile the second part of the film analyzes a rather unique trait in Saroo’s story where he must retrospectively compare and contrast between the two lives he’s been exposed to.
As I stated previously, the first hour of Lion follows young Saroo and how he comes to lose his family which eventually leads him to another family in Australia. There’s no other way of putting it, newcomer Sunny Pawar kills it. He’s able to command a naturalistic display of emotions from such a young age that speaks to the marvels of Jacob Tremblay and Enzo Staiola. The kid is truly superb, being able to carry the first-half of Lion as the star of his own narrative, elevating the status of said segment to that of its own feature-length. Cinematographer Greig Fraser also does some remarkable work here, shooting everything from the perspective of Saroo, especially keeping most of the shots exemplifying his isolation immense and dark, while every shot showcasing his fearful state of being at Saroo’s stature, making everything surrounding him seem all the more scarier simply based on size and appearance. Combining these camera techniques with the fabulous performance by Pawar, Davis crafts an elegant intro that could possibly pass off as its own film.
Then there’s a twenty year gap in time and we’re presented to the new Saroo, a muscular Dev Patel rising from the water with luscious hair running down face as if imitating the splendor of a lion. At first glance it diminishes the gritty reality of the first half of the film, but keep in mind contrastive values I mentioned earlier. Davis juxtaposes the saddening reality of Saroo’s impoverished childhood against his privileged lifestyle in Australia to play on the very psyche of Saroo. That’s why master-talent Dev Patel comes in, playing a character rather similar to the one in Slumdog Millionare but extremely more complex than meets the eye.It’s then that we’re thrust into the classical trapping of Oscar-fare, when Saroo meets this lovely young lady beautifully played by Rooney Mara and then some family drama is thrown in the mix, but moving past that we go back the clear topic Davis is trying to get at: that of how privileged members of society are supposed to help the underprivileged and how those who have been rescued should give back, perpetuating this cycle of salvation. Suddenly Saroo realizes that and that’s when Davis regains his momentum, confronting this very topic through Saroo as well as giving is the first emotionally resonate Google search I’ve ever seen portrayed on the big screen.
Lion is a deeply emotional film, one about giving and giving back. Anchored by all-around terrific performances as well as some really exciting new-comers that are not only present on-screen like Sunny Pawar, but behind the lens as in first-time director Garth Davis who also does a phenomenal job in navigating us through this emotionally-tangled road. Greig Fraser’s cinematography also works wonders, especially during the first half of the film. While the second half occasionally does let itself succumb to the trappings of your typical Oscar-film stereotypes, but Davis is swiftly able to overcome that by ending the film on a high note that stresses a message well-worth listening to.