Garth Davis’s Lion

True stories like the one Garth Davis’s Lion is based on always make affecting films, but with this one they’ve done something really special. Using narrative pacing to make the passage of years feel tangibly real, being as minimal with emotional swells to let the actors tell the story in long, careful takes and evoking meticulous mood of time and place for both India in the early 80’s and present day Australia, both vividly captured. The story this is based on is something of a miracle: One day a young boy called Saroo from a poor farming village in rural India gets separated from his brother while buying supplies, ends up on the wrong train and is carried half across the giant country to a region he doesn’t know. Lost, scared and alone, he sets out as best he can to get by, but it’s a big scary overpopulated country and fairly soon he slips through the cracks into the social services system and ends up orphaned. The beauty of the film is in its structure and pacing; for almost half of the film we see this playing out as he’s a young boy, one long hypnotic passage of time that puts you in a trance until you feel like you’re right there beside him through all of it. Flash forward twenty years or so, he has grown up into a young man played by Dev Patel, and has been adopted into a new home half across the world in Australia by a kindly couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Given a fresh start and a new life, he has become a successful, smart young scholar with big dreams and a bright future. Except he never, ever forgot his tiny village somewhere out there in India, and the mother, brother and sister he left behind. “I’m not from “, I’m lost” he hauntingly tells his girlfriend (Rooney Mara, excellent) who does her best to help him. So begins a complicated, frustrating and determined search to find the tiny village he once lived in, and his family. Using google earth and a host of other resources he’s able to trace his roots and the dangerous journey he took as a child, memories of which have come flooding back to him as he grows older. It’s an extraordinary story, beautifully acted and told with grace and spirit, anchored by Patel’s earnest portrayal of real life protagonist Saroo Brierley.

-Nate Hill

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