Lion

First Hit:  A very dramatic and heartfelt story about a young man finding his original home and family.

This was almost like watching two films, each with their own engagement. The first film is about a young Indian boy Saroo (Sunny Pawar) whose life of poverty is documented here by how he helps his mom Kamla (Priyanka Bose) carry rocks, or stealing coal from a train with his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), or by carrying watermelons for a town vendor. They live in a small one room place in a small-town many hundred miles west of Calcutta.

One night he gets separated from his brother, falls asleep on a train and wakes up in Calcutta. Lost without food or water and the inability to speak the main language of Calcutta, Bengali; he finds himself living on the street. A woman who speaks Hindi finds him and realizes that this boy has no idea where he is and that his family probably won’t find him. This engagement teaches him to trust his inner guide as she ends up not being as trustworthy as she appeared to be.

This part of the film has a particular flow and feeling of wonder and impoverishment, even when he’s adopted by John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman respectively), a couple from Tasmania, Australia.

The second half of the film has Saroo (Dev Patel), now age twenty, being well ensconced in his life with his adoptive caring parents. He heads off to hotel management school where he meets Lucy (Rooney Mara). At a gathering of their mutual friends, he begins to share what he knows of his past after which he begins to have visions of his past life as a small boy in India.

This part of the film has a very different feeling. It’s a feeling of having questions, creating a quest, and finding answers. The wonder of young innocence is gone. It isn’t that this isn’t good, however it requires the audience to tie the two films together.

There are really wonderful scenes in both sections, but I found the scene with Saroo and Sue, when she tells him why she adopted him to be the most powerful. Kidman shows why she’s had such an amazing career. The impact of this scene was closely followed by the impact of a couple other scenes when the adult Saroo goes back to India to find his past.

Pawar was amazing as young Saroo. His wonder while holding his fear in check was amazing. Bose was really good as Saroo’s natural mother. Wenham was OK as Saroo’s adoptive father. I would have liked a stronger role for him as a male mentor. Kidman was amazing. The scene where she tells her story as to why she wanted to adopt Saroo was sublime. Patel as the older Saroo was very good and cements him as adult actor in a major role with the ability to carry a film. Mara was very good in this supportive role. Luke Davies wrote an effective screen play from the real Saroo Brierley book called “A Long Way Home”. Garth Davis did an excellent job of showing the communities in India in all it amazingness. Having traveled quite a bit on the trains of India, I really loved the scene in Calcutta when Saroo wanted off the train and throngs of riders were attempting to get on board.

Overall:  This was an engaging story although the two different sections of film require the audience to make the shift to stay engaged.