MORE THAN 80,000 children go missing in India every year. That is the jaw-droppingly tragic statistic delivered at the end of Garth Davis’ emotionally epic film Lion.
It is one of those stats, so overwhelming and unthinkable, that many of us will shudder and gladfully supress it from our thoughts within hours. Yet Davis’ film attaches a miraculous, poignantly acted – and true – story to this devastating statistic. One that will hopefully act as a catalyst for meaningful action and results.
From the film’s opening drone shots, Davis introduces the viewer to the sprawling, majestic and, still, naturalistically unforgiving world we live in. It is a world that Saroo, played quite brilliantly by Sunny Pawar, finds himself lost in at the hapless age of five.
Thousands of miles from his family, Saroo contends with the danger of the streets as his cries for help are drowned out by an ocean of people. Saroo is noticeably not the only child in this situation. Other victims of cruel circumstance litter the streets, one of whom is generous enough to lend Saroo a piece of a cardboard box to sleep on.
Sleeping rough is just one of the dangers of this life, as evidenced by Saroo’s interaction with one sinisterly intentioned woman named Noor. Sadly, where there are the weak and vulnerable, the vultures are never far away.
The book on Saroo’s return home is seemingly shut when circumstances bring him into the attentive, first-world care of an Australian couple living in Hobart. His adopted mother (Nicole Kidman) and father (David Wenham) raise the youngster, along with another more troubled Indian-born child, to become a responsible Aussie adult who loves the national cricket team and aspires to become a hotel manager.
Dev Patel carries on Pawar’s magnificent performance as an older Saroo, who is growingly haunted by his unresolved childhood years. Joined by his concerned girlfriend (the ever-excellent Rooney Mara), Saroo uses the modern tools of google maps – reminiscent of Davis’ drone shots – and Wikipedia to search for the remote village of his birth.
Lion is filled with tender scenes, despite a slightly lagging third act. Among those are Saroo desperately crying out for his brother Guddu as he realises the train is taking him far from home and, later, Saroo gently wiping the tears from the face of his Australian mother who is struggling to cope with the new addition to their family.
The relationship between Saroo and his Aussie mum provides easily the most engaging thread of story beyond Saroo’s quest for home. All of their moving moments together showcase Kidman at her very best. With Lion, The Beguiled, The Killing of the Sacred Deer and Big Little Lies, 2017 has been an exceptional year for Kidman. One of her best.
Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka’s Oscar nominated original score only breathes further emotional weight into this well-executed film.
A touching, provoking and – hopefully – impactful film. If you have not seen it yet, I urge you to do so.