This tale of a lost child’s long journey home delivers sentimental clout

LIVING ROUGH: tens of thousands of children end up living on the streets of India every year
LIVING ROUGH: tens of thousands of children end up attempting to survive violence and exploitation on the streets of India every year

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Film: Lion

Director: Garth Davis

Starring: Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel (The Man Who Knew Infinity 2016, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2015), Nicole Kidman (Before I Go To Sleep 2014, The Railway Man 2014), Rooney Mara (Una 2016, Pan 2015, Carol 2015).

Plot: The true story of Saroo Brierley who was separated from his family in India as a child, and adopted by a Tasmanian couple. As an adult, he uses Google Earth to locate his home village.

What I thought of it: I enjoyed this film, and so did The Current Mrs Feeney (who shed a few tears as it reached its conclusion.)

Last week we went to see Manchester By The Sea (see review below), and Lion shares a similar theme, as far as both films are about lost men who make a long journey home (Lion is the more visually arresting film, replacing the grey seas of New England for the colourful vibrancy of rural and urban India.)

A NEW TALENT: Sunny Pawar is astonishing in his first film as the young Saroo
A NEW TALENT: Sunny Pawar is astonishing in his first film as the young Saroo

In Lion, the main character is literally lost. The child Saroo (Pawar in his first film) is separated from his brother, and becomes accidentally trapped inside an empty locked train that travels for two days across India until it reaches Calcutta. Unable to speak the local Bengali language, the Hindi-speaking Saroo becomes one of the city’s thousands of street children. He is admitted to a large home for lost children, before being adopted and flying to a new life in Australia.

WELCOME HOME: Nicole Kidman gives her best performance for years as Saroo's adoptive Australian mum
WELCOME HOME: Nicole Kidman gives her best performance for years as Saroo’s adoptive Australian mum

This first part of the film is more interesting than the second part, where the adult Saroo (Patel) uses the internet, and Google Earth, to locate his home village. It is difficult to wring much drama out of a man sat on a sofa with a laptop looking at maps, though Davis has a very good stab at it on his feature film directorial debut.

A NEW MAN: Patel (with Rooney Mara as his American girlfriend) gives his first truly adult performance
A NEW MAN: Patel (pictured with Rooney Mara, as his American girlfriend) gives his first truly adult performance

Patel gives his best performance since his breakthrough in Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. He was little more than a child then, so it is ironic that in Lion he is overshadowed by the extraordinary discovery Sunny Pawar, as the wide-eyed child with the inner strength to survive the threats of violence and sexual exploitation faced by children forced to live in poverty on India’s city streets (there are 80,000 lost children every year in the sub-continent).

While I think Manchester By The Sea has more emotional complexity, there is no denying Lion has the sentimental clout. A shame then that the finalé, where Saroo returns home to discover joy and sadness, feels rushed.

Despite this, and the film’s second-half slump, Lion is a well directed and well acted film that deserves your attention.

Retired Bloke Rating: ***** A very good way to spend an afternoon.

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