A five year old child gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, 1600 km from his home, and must survive the perils of urban India before he is picked up by a children’s home. He is then adopted by an Australian family, where twenty years later he will use google earth to find home.
In many ways Lion’s determination to stick to its narrative framing device of having two clear halves – the first being the child’s exploits, and the second being Dev Patel searching for home – hinders the narrative flow. Personally I would have preferred a looser format where we wander between the two timelines. This method is lightly touched on right at the end of the movie with Dev Patel remembering things and this is the most successful part of the film for me. I also think if we had started with Dev Patel and his relationships I would’ve found it easier to emotionally connect with the characters. As it was I struggled to fully connect until nearer the end.
I also think the film suffers from wanting to move fairly quickly along with events. The child’s relationship with his blood mother is rushed at the beginning and so never had the emotional draw that I think it should have. However this could be the filmmakers not wanting to come across as needlessly sentimental. With the Oscars around the corner this is an understandable concern, but occasionally it felt to me like the film was pulling punches.
Dev Patel is truly excellent here, and although he has been nominated as supporting actor, he is clearly the leading man of the movie. Sunny Pawar does remarkable work as the child in the first half but his relationships are too often rushed. Dev Patel’s half of the story takes more time to develop and for me was the more emotionally engaging part of the film.
The landscapes of both Australia and India play such a key part in the success of the film, and despite my criticisms I do think on the whole it is a success, the vastness of the Indian planes is played off against the smallness of Sunny Pawar to wonderful effect. Australia (actually Tasmania) gives this great sense of isolation and I would have liked to see more juxtapostioning of the two.
I think really, Lion is an edit away from being something really amazing. But its rigid structure and rushed beginning prevent it from being as such. I would still recommend going to see it as it is very good. I just think it had the wherewithal to be amazing.