List Film

Lion (4 stars)

TIFF 2016: Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel star in an eloquently told stranger-than-fiction story


Lion is one of those stranger-than-fiction stories that grab at your heart, squeezing out tears that you never knew you had. It is a hugely emotional film but one that earns those tears rather than crassly begging for them. Garth Davis has directed episodes of Top of the Lake but Lion is his first cinematic feature. He shows a remarkable assurance handling the life story of Saroo Brierley, smartly balancing past and present, India and Australia, hope and devastation.

The five-year-old Saroo is played by the completely captivating, natural born scene-stealer Sunny Pawar. As a young boy in India, he is bright-eyed and big-hearted with a self belief that could move mountains. When he is separated from his mother and family, his tale starts to assume the scope of a Dickens novel. He is subsequently adopted by Australian couple Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) and starts a completely new life surrounded by comfort and love. It is only decades later that Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) begins to address the sense of loss that has haunted his adult years. Using satellite images provided by Google Earth, he begins the search for the place he once called home.

Lion has a sense of restraint and honesty that cuts against any sentimentality and Davis secures heartfelt performances throughout. Kidman is very much on form in a supporting role as the selfless Sue, and Rooney Mara adds weight to the role of Saroo's loyal girlfriend Lucy. At the very end of the film there is footage of the real Saroo Brierley with his mother. Because it is a true story we may know exactly where Lion is heading but that does nothing to lessen the impact of a film that deals so eloquently with loss, love and our understanding of family.

Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2016. General release TBC.


  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • Australia/UK/US
  • Directed by: Garth Davis
  • Written by: Saroo Brierley, Luke Davies
  • Cast: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman

The true story of Saroo Brierley, who aged five is separated from his mother and family in India, declared lost and adopted by an Australian couple, only to track his family down years later using Google Earth. Hugely emotional, remarkably assured debut from Davis, with fine performances.


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