It feels like the "based on a true story" tag exists on just about every movie nowadays. This alarming frequency tends to dilute any semblance of realism meant to be injected into the story. But in rare real-life instances, the truth is just too amazing to discredit, and that certainly exists in the debut drama from Garth Davis, Lion.
As a five year-old boy living in the slums of India, Saroo (Sunny Pawar/Dev Patel) is accidentally separated from his brother and mistakenly travels 1,600 km across the country. Lost from his family, the young boy is left to fend for himself on the devilish streets of Calcutta until he is taken in and adopted by a couple living abroad in Australia. But as Saroo grows up under the roof of wealth and privilege in his new home, a memory from his childhood is triggered and prompts him to venture back to India in search of his lost family.
Lion possesses a far greater appeal in retrospect than as it unfolds on the big screen in real time. And once the story shifts to an adult Saroo, there's an abruptness to the character's widely evolving emotions. From sadness, to resentment and eventual acceptance of the life he's been forced to endure, these feelings are highlighted but never actually earned. As a result, Lion struggles to break the emotional barrier necessary to elevate its sentimental finale to appropriate heights. From a filmmaking standpoint, Garth Davis delivers adequate direction that's enhanced by majestic cinematography and a memorable score courtesy of Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O'Halloran. Much has also been made about Nicole Kidman's performance but, even during a year of thin competition within the Supporting Actress race, it fails to leave a lasting impression. Lion's remarkable true story isn't handled with the care it deserves, yet the film's heart-warming conclusion helps salvage this otherwise flawed work.