Review by Bob Ignizio
You know it's awards season when all the serious, adult-oriented dramas hit theaters in one big, oh-so-very important, based-on-a-true-story, cinematic dump.
Case in point: The Australian/British co-production LION, which dramatizes the real life story of Saroo Brierly (Sunny Pawar). At the age of 5, Saroo and his older brother Guddu travel miles away from home, looking for work. Saroo is too tired when they get there, however, and Guddu must leave him at the train station. The older boy never returns, and when Saroo awakes, he accidentally wanders on to a decommissioned train that winds up taking him even farther away.
The boy lives on the streets, dealing with dangers including pedophiles and just basic survival. Eventually he is taken to a police station, but they have no luck getting him back home. Saroo doesn't know his last name or his mother's name, and when he says the name of his village, no one seems to have heard of it. So the boy is placed in an orphanage, where he is eventually adopted by an Australia couple, Sue and John Brierly (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). A year later, they adopt another Indian boy, the troubled Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav as a child, Divian Ladwa as an adult).
Flash forward 20 years, and Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) seems to be doing well in his new life (Mantosh, now played by Divian Ladwa, not so much, but that subplot isn't explored much). But when Saroo and his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) get together with some friends for a dinner of Indian food, it stirs recollections of his old life. And when Saroo learns about Google Earth, and the possibility of searching for his old home by computer, he becomes consumed with the idea.
I'll leave it to you to see how it all plays out yourself, but you can probably guess.
While LION hews relatively close to the facts, it's fair to say that director Garth Davis and screenwriter Luke Davis have shaped the narrative to fit the formula we expect for these kind of films, with all the beats falling exactly where we expect them to. There's some lip service paid to the larger social issue of Indian street children, but LION doesn't explore that issue to any depth. It is, first and foremost, intended to be an uplifting, feel-good story. In short, the kind of movie a lot of folks enjoy. For the most part, I enjoyed it, too. It's just a little too safe and by the numbers to pronounce it a great, rather than just good, film. 3 out of 4 stars.