After the kind of year the world had in 2016, it needs a movie like Lion.
While the film is neither novel nor revolutionary, it’s the kind of cinematic warm blanket that feels very comforting and satisfying right now, especially during the holidays. That it’s a true story — based on A Long Way Home, a bestselling memoir from Saroo Brierley — makes it all the more affecting.
Sunny Pawar is Saroo, a 5-year-old Indian boy living with his older brother and mother. While they have very little beyond each other, it seems to be enough for Saroo who is precocious, smart and likes to go everywhere with his brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate).
But events turn tragic when Saroo and Guddu become separated one night and Saroo mistakenly ends up on a train going to a city he doesn’t know where they speak a language he doesn’t understand. While vainly hunting for family and familiarity, he is forced to grow up quickly as he becomes a street kid who has to fend off those who would take advantage of him.
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The first half of the film follows Saroo’s agonizingly arduous journey that ends with him in an orphanage. From there, he is adopted by an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), and is sent to live with them in Hobart, Tasmania.
Flash forward several years and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) is the adult Saroo. Although he’s happy with his life and girlfriend (Rooney Mara) in Australia, he feels guilty for the pain his disappearance must have caused his mother and brother.
Guilt turns to obsession and he can think of nothing else but putting the puzzle pieces of his original life together. So he takes off for India to find his birth family.
In his first feature, director Garth Davis, working from a script by Luke Davies, takes what’s a fairly simple story of finding one’s roots and imbues it with a sense of epic struggle. Lion, filmed in Tasmania, Melbourne and Kolkata, is gorgeously shot while Patel turns in what may be his strongest work since Slumdog.
Davis deserves special applause for coaxing a believable and moving performance from Pawar, who has his first role in Lion.
If, while watching Lion, you don’t get just a little bit teary and your heart doesn’t just get a little warm, you might want to check to see if it’s still beating.
Exclusive: Opens Dec. 25 at AMC Parks at Arlington; Regal Hollywood MacArthur, Irving; Angelika Dallas; Cinemark Legacy 24, Plano; Angelika Plano; AMC Stonebriar, Frisco
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Garth Davis
Cast: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar
Rated: PG-13 (thematic material, some sensuality)
Running time: 118 min.