‘Lion’s’ story is a movie of two halves. Caught between the present and the past, its characters can not move forward without being tied to their origins and its here that there is a disparity of riches.
Whilst Dev Patel puts in a career-best performance (where he is at last allowed to broaden his range), the past (as carried by first-time actor Sunny Pawar) easily eclipses Patel’s turn and becomes the centre of the story. As is so often the case with break-through performances and first-time actors, they seem to bring a heightened sense of reality to the proceedings, so much so that when the main plot (or A-list cast) arrive the movie can start to feel suddenly pedestrian. And so it is with ‘Lion’. The first half is ably carried by talented unknowns only to be later supplanted by all-too familiar acting faces and its hard-won immediacy slowly slips away into a sense of melodramatic predictability, which is a shame given the true-life nature of the tale.
Mirroring the determination of its central character, it resolutely sticks to its central tenet of abandonment.
In the end, ‘Lion’ is a story about separation and isolation and how the past can have a hold on the future. Mirroring the determination of its central character, it resolutely sticks to its central tenet of abandonment, at the expense of exploring some of its other characters, which might have yielded even more and drama and suspense.
On reflection ’Lion’s’ adherence to veracity and the eschewing of saccharine is commendable as are the performances (especially in the first half). However as a tale of perseverance against crushingly futile odds, it wanes against similar movies like Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Incendies’ and the evergreen ‘The Killing Fields’ both of which will have you choking back the tears until the very last second.