A heartfelt journey of humble beginnings...

Please note the review below may contain minor spoilers - I've done my best to keep them to a minimum.

Originally based on a true story which was later adapted into an autobiographical book titled ĎA Long Way Homeí. Now that tale makes its way to the big screen, with Luke Davies on screenwriting duty and Garth Davis making his directorial feature film debut with the aptly named Lion.

Opening in rural India in 1986, as two young brothers - Saroo (played by Sunny Pawar) and the elder Guddu (played by Abhishek Bharate) - pilfer lumps of coal atop a slow-moving train. With their bounty in-hand the pair exchange it for a small portion of milk to bring back home to their mother and sister - their sustenance for the night.

But with night falling, their mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) has to go away for her regular work at a local stone quarry and Guddu has plans to continue scraping together a living doing dangerous night work, leaving it up to Saroo to look after his young sister Shekila (Khushi Solanki). But Saroo has other ideas, pestering his brother to take him along, a request which sees Guddu relenting to his younger siblings badgering.

As night wanes on, the two brothers race across the train tracks, but when the young Saroo eventually grows tired, Guddu insists for his brother to rest upon one of the bench platforms in the station, with the promise heíll be back shortly to collect him.

But when Saroo awakes, he finds himself alone, leading him to wander the derelict station in search of his brother. But with his brother seemingly nowhere to be found, Saroo falls asleep within one of the train compartments, awakening just a short time later trapped aboard a moving train that is rapidly travelling across India and no way to turn back.

A picture says a thousand words, and that is exactly what is needed to convey the sheer reality of day-to-day living within a third world country - and thatís just the living aspect - nevermind being a young child on the streets of India having no one but yourself to rely on and survive. Lion as a film exceeds in that area, with shots that manage to remain beautiful regardless of the grim content on screen and then flips the script in its latter half, with the modern world standing in stark contrast to its humble beginnings.

In addition to that are the debut performances of both Sunny Pawar as a young Saroo and Abhishek Bharate as his brother Guddu, itís astonishing that Lion is their first ever acting performances as they knock it out of the park and weíre sure to see much more of them in the future.

One of the best aspects - and obviously in part because itís based on a true story - that Lion exudes, is never shying away from the darkness of life, showcasing an environment of Ďsurvival of the fittestí or in some cases Ďsurvival of the most depravedí, in which it truly is a miracle to come out unscathed - both mentally and physically.

But within that harsh reality resides the films heart, the family of Saroo who continue to haunt him well into adulthood and travel within him across the globe. That feeling of a hole missing within Saroo, being unable to move on in his life, is palpable on screen and portrayed brilliantly by Dev Patel.

Lion - (Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara)

Itís quite the feat that Lion is the directorial debut of Garth Davis, speaking to his obvious talent in the medium with a truly beautifully shot film that has a great sense of scale and distance throughout, itís veteran work and highlights a bright future for the budding filmmaker.

But being an autobiographical story, it's both a blessing and a curse for Lion, with an odd pacing present throughout. Obviously life isnít a movie, and things begin and end when they need to, unfortunately that aspect isnít the best way to digest a story in the visual medium - wherein weíre used to peaks and valleys - to ramp us up and let us down. That ever present flow of film is missing within Lion, but honestly it works to its advantage coming across as a far more realistic and less dramatised portrayal because of it.

The best stories in life are true, and Lion exemplifies that. Expertly crafted from a directorial newcomer with a heart-tugging journey of rags to riches and back again with fantastic performances throughout. Whilst Lion lacks the arcing pacing we have come to expect in modern films, it turns that into realism and the first must-watch film of 2017.

  • Review by
    David Robinson

    Twitter: @5ypher

    Posted on
    31st December 2016

  • 5 Out of 5 Stars
  • Lacks that familiar film flow

  • Excellent performances

    Directorial debut

    Heartfelt journey

    Conveys a real sense of longing

Film Info

Lion Lion
Rating: PG
Release Date: 20th January
Runtime: 1 hr 58 mins
Director: Garth Davis
Starring: Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham & Rooney Mara

  • Life of Pi
  • Slumdog Millionaire

Yes, whilst violence and depravity is implied, it's not shown on screen. Though the slow burn aspect of the movie is unlikely to enthrall children.

Dev Patel took 8 months preparing for the role; from bulking up in the gym, developing an Australian accent, visiting India and taking the actual train journey of the young Saroo.

The 8-year-old Sunny Pawar was originally unable to attend the US premiere because he was denied a visa. Producers of the film made an appeal to Homeland Security, after which Pawar and his father were allowed to come to the US.

Sunny Pawar didn't speak English when filming began and bonded with Nicole Kidman, his on-screen mother, by playing cricket with her - scenes which eventually made it into the film.