When it was recently announced that Dev Patel would be up for awards in both the BAFTAs and Golden Globes for best supporting actor in Lion, a film in which he takes top billing, his nominated categories raised a few eyebrows, mine included, within the film community. Was there something substandard about his performance that meant it couldn’t be considered worthy of at least a leading actor nomination? Or was this another example of diversity being overlooked, much like last year’s controversial Oscars? Having finally seen the film, I can safely say the answer is neither of the above; Patel is indeed a supporting actor here, taking somewhat of a backseat to Sunny Pawar, who, at only eight-years-old, gives one of the best young performances I’ve seen in recent years.
In his debut role he plays a young Saroo Brierley, a five-year-old boy who ends up thousands of kilometers from his home after ending up trapped on a decommissioned passenger train. Lost on the scary streets of Calcutta, he finds himself having to escape the clutches of adults who would seek to do him harm until he eventually finds himself up for adoption by an Australian couple. Fast forward 25-years later and Saroo is now played by Dev Patel who at first appears grounded and content, but who becomes increasingly obsessed with trying to trace his way back home by using a new programme by the name of Google Earth.
Whilst other writers may have been tempted to use a narrative structure based on flashbacks, constantly cutting between the past and present, part of the brilliance behind Luke Davis’ screenplay is how he allows Saroo’s remarkable true story to play out linearly. The result is something which works on a number of levels: first of which is the fact that we’re allowed plenty of time to feel for and get behind the young Saroo, whose situation becomes more terrifying as his story progresses.
Quite surprisingly, we seem to spend a lot more time with the younger Saroo than we do with his older counterpart, which works because of Sunny Pawar’s terrific turn. His is a the type of star-making performance that’s greater than his years, similar to that of Jacob Tremblay’s in last year’s harrowing Room. And like Tremblay, Pawar manages to ooze so much charisma and intensity thar this promises to be just the first of many great performances to come from the actor.
The second reason as to why the linear narrative helps the overall film, is that it really captures a sense of the journey that Saroo went on. As we see the young boy run from one bad situation straight into the next, it’s as if you can physically feel the hope draining out of you. And so when the time comes when Saroo finally finds himself escaping to the safe haven offered by his adoptive Australian family, the sense of relief and happiness you suddenly feel is multiplied tenfold. This is emotionally charged film-making at its very best, which makes you suffer through the bad before allowing you to revel in the goodness of its uplifting, if slightly bittersweet ending.
Considering true stories such as this are notoriously difficult to get right, there’s a lot to admire in Garth Davis’ film. The performances across the board are all wonderful, it boasts some stunning photography from Greig Fraser, and the score from Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran is incredibly powerful. Often unsettling (its PG rating is one not to be taken lightly) but ultimately inspiring, Lion is an efficiently and solidly crafted piece of work which will surely move you to tears. You’ll feel like you’ve been through the emotional wringer by the time the credits roll, but it’ll still feel like the journey was well worth taking.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com