The Weinstein Company
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: B+
Director:  Garth Davis
Written by: Luke Davies from Saroo Briefley’s book “A Long Way Home”
Cast: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Sunny Pawar, Abhiskek Bharate
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 11/4/16
Opens: November 24, 2016

During the just-completed presidential campaign in the U.S. reactionaries came out of the woodwork to demand programs like “English only” or “No signs in foreign languages.”  While it’s certainly admirable for all immigrants to our country if they could speak English for their own benefit, we celebrate diversity for its own sake.  Many immigrants annoy conservative folk when they speak of “my country” as one other than the U.S, but to coin a cliché, home is where the heart is.  And while it would be dandy for the hearts of all Americans to be here, it’s realistic and not really a problem to think of home as the place in which people recalled their childhood.  In fact, social psychologists have said that even if first generation Americans live far better lives materially, they might still harbor  homesickness for the birth country.

This idea reaches full fruition in Garth Davis’s “Lion,” which deals with a five-year-old named Saroo (Sunny Pawar)—his name a mispronunciation of Sheru, which means Lion—who falls asleep while boarding a train with his brother.  The two are playing and mean to get off after they go through a tunnel to evade the authorities.  Somehow Saroo is unable to dismount, falls asleep, and winds up in Calcutta 1600 kms from his home.  Imagine a five-year-old alone in a strange land where he does not speak the language!  His native tongue is Hindi while all around him people know only Bengali.  He is picked up by a friendly woman who feeds him, then introduces him to a male friend. Saroo, even at his age, realizes that he is being set up as a sex slave, he runs for his life and winds up in an orphanage the likes of which you would not see in the U.S. or Western Europe but only in a country as poor as India.  Given his lack of knowledge of even the name of his village, he is lost.

Luck is with him because a rich couple, Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman) and her husband John Brierley (David Wenham), living in the Australian island of Tasmania, adopt him, and have him flown to wealth that he could not have known existed.  Twenty-five years later, Saroo (Dev Patel), sporting the name Saroo Brierley, starts a course in hotel management, meets Lucy (Rooney Mara), and falls in love.

With a quarter century of fitting in nicely, speaking fluent English (OK it’s Australian English), he longs to return to his mum, fears that she has suffered in looking for him all this time, and spends weeks, maybe months with Google Earth to pinpoint his town by landmarks rather than names.  He may have once thought that he would never use math, but he works out with huge wall maps, calculating the speed of the train on which he got stuck, the linking to the number of hours the journey took, thereby locating the home village whose name he did not possess.

Some who have seen this movie report that it’s a ten-hanky affair, one which, if successful in capturing full audience attention, will lead people in the theater to cry with joy at the reunion.  This emotion is furthered by our knowledge that the story is true, a coup for director Davis who has won prizes for his commercials, including the Golden Lion award at Cannes. The film must be a labor of love for Nicole Kidman since the forty-nine year old Australian actress has two adopted children of her own.  (Her character states that she and her husband agreed not to have kids of their own because they wanted to save others who needed parents rather than adding two of their own to the world.)

Filming is stunning.  Scenes of Calcutta feature wall-to-wall people in that poverty-stricken province, and Hobart in Tasmania is gorgeous.  What a product placement for the Australian Tourist Commission!  If you find yourself crying by the emotional reunion of Saroo with his mother and the entire village, you got your money’s worth.  If you’re dry-eyed, that’s OK since Sunny Pawar as you’ll enjoy watching young Saroo make a terrific introduction to an acting career.  He will be seen next year in a smaller role in “Love Sonia,” about the world of international sex trafficking.

The paperback book by none other than Saroo, “A Long Way Home,” is available from Amazon at $9.75.

Unrated.  120 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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