‘Lion’; based on the autobiographical novel ‘A Long Way Home’ by Saroo Brierley; is about his experiences getting adopted by an Australian couple after getting separated from his family via train, and the journey he takes to get back to his hometown of Khandwa, India via Google Earth. This could have felt like an advertisement for Google Earth, but the story behind both the book and movie; directed by Garth Davis (in his feature debut), and starring Dev Patel as Saroo, tells us otherwise. What the film intends to do is inform us of the many missing children in India (as most movies with tragic subjects based on true stories tend to do to keep us aware. Last year’s ‘Best Picture’ winner ‘Spotlight’ did the same with the topic of the Catholic priest sex scandals that occurred in the 90’s). While the film is thoughtful in that aspect, Davis’ direction of the autobiographical film is not by much.
For the first half-hour, we are taken into Saroo’s childhood (Where he is played by Sunny Pawar), which feels like either a foreign film from India (Don’t get me wrong, the film is done really well with honesty and truth.), or a small Facebook PSA regarding missing children; the way that Pawar plays young Saroo should be heartbreaking and tragic, but instead we barely get a devastating cry for help. (Fievel from ‘An American Tail’ was more of a crying mess when it came to separation than Pawar was.) If it truly was any other missing child, there would be more than just “Have you seen my family?”, there would be plenty of tears and loss of hope after being separated so long. That is one moment in which ‘Lion’ fails to truly captivate. I know people who have (or may) find this to truly be an emotional experience to truly treasure; there is guarantee for the most emotional moviegoer. As for me, I just couldn’t feel its tragedy as much as it wanted me to.
Cut to a near 20 years, where Saroo is living with his adoptive Australian parents (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman, who are actually Australian), who are kind, caring, and love him for the person he is. We also get to see Saroo’s relationship with an American college student named Lucy (Rooney Mara), which turns the film into less of a dramatic adventure to search for home, and more of a romance.
I might be a little harsh on a movie based on a non-fiction novel, but ‘Lion’ is not a bad movie; it has beautiful cinematography and a finale that will warm anyone’s heart. My problem with this film is that it commits crimes against the emotions I need to feel. Its heart is in the right place, but it barely puts a lot of effort to secure the emotions for me to feel captivated. I don’t need to see Dev Patel’s scruffy face being closed in for almost 2 hours, or a chance to spark romantic chemistry between him and Mara. I want to see the search Saroo makes to get to his family. It seems as though the only destination ‘Lion’ cared to reach was for the Oscars where it was nominated for ‘Best Picture’, ‘Supporting Actor – Dev Patel’, ‘Supporting Actress – Kidman‘, and ‘Adapted Screenplay’.