This is the first film I've seen since coming back from holidays. I really liked it and intend giving it a high "star" rating. Internet scuttlebutt says that it is in line for many awards, including possible Oscars. I can see why.
It is based on a heartbreaking true story. Young Saroo, aged five, comes from a poverty-stricken background in India. One day in 1987, while scavenging for food with his older brother at a railway station, the two are separated, and Saroo winds up on a train heading for Kolkata (Calcutta) some 1500 km away. There, he is lost and becomes a homeless street urchin and potential prey for paedophiles and other miscreants. (The scenes where he slips from the clutches of a paedophile ring will have you cheering.) Unable to find his family, he is eventually taken into an Indian orphanage from where he is adopted by an Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley, from Hobart, Tasmania. Saroo moves to Hobart with his new family, fits well into Australian life, grows up in happy circumstances, acquires a nice girlfriend, and starts training for a business career. Yet, he is haunted by memories of his Indian childhood and his real mother. Using his own memories of his Indian home, plus some really clever sleuthing on Google Earth, he tracks down his home village. He returns to India in 2012, to try to find his biological family. His real mother is still living in their old family home; she wouldn't leave in case Saroo came back one day. The reunion of the now grown-up Saroo with his long-lost real mother is happy and tearful.
This is definitely a movie with a high Kleenex quotient. Even I, who is normally clear-headed and sensible about films, shed a secretive tear or two at Saroo's travails. Although Nicole Kidman (playing Sue Brierley the adoptive mother) and David Wenham (playing John Brierley the adoptive father) get star billing, they are really "support" roles; the star players are without doubt Dev Patel as the adult Saroo, and a little kid, Sunny Pawar, who gives a bewitching performance as five-year-old Saroo. We are probably more used to Patel in comedy roles such as his performances in the "Marigold Hotel" movies. Here, he plays a more dramatic part, and does it very well indeed. The film was partly shot in India and uses an extensive Indian cast in support roles, who are all very convincing. I love films about India, and the scenery in this movie, both Indian and Australian, has been filmed beautifully.
For a film that is slightly under two hours in length, it fits in a surprising amount. There are several sub-plots: the adult Saroo agonises over telling his Aussie adoptive parents about his search for his Indian roots for fear of hurting them; his relationship with his girlfriend Lucy becomes strained as he spends so much time on his Indian researches; and then there is the whole sub-story of Mantosh, the Brierley's second adopted Indian child and Saroo's adoptive brother, who has major adjustment problems and is the black sheep of the Brierley family.
The first-rate direction of this movie is by Garth Davis, whose first full-length film this is. He deserves full praise for an excellent effort. The equally gripping screenplay, by Luke Davies, is adapted from an autobiography co-written by the real Saroo Brierley. As a heart-wringing bonus, the closing scenes of the film comprise actual footage of the real-life Saroo, his real-life biological mother, and the real-life Sue Brierley together in India. If you haven't brought out your Kleenex yet, you will at this point in the movie.
A note at the end of the film reminds one of the sober and disquieting fact that, each year, some 80,000 children go missing in India. These days, inter-country adoptions of underprivileged kids by wealthy Western couples are perhaps not as well-regarded as they used to be. This movie, if nothing else, documents one such adoption that seems to have turned out beautifully for all concerned.
It is a gem of a movie. Don't miss it.
And what is the relevance of the film's title, "Lion"? That is explained at the very end of the movie ...
My star rating (out of five): * * * * 3/4