By Hollywood standards, the story of Lion sounds relatively prosaic: a child gets lost, is adopted, and years later uses Google Earth to find his family. But the telling of it touches on so many heart-tugging topics that it’ll have anyone who’s ever lost a kid, found a kid, or even met a kid blubbing in the aisles.
Adapted from A Long Way Home, a memoir by protagonist Saroo Brierley, it tells the story of an Indian boy who becomes separated from his family and is eventaully taken in by an Australian couple. Brierley is played by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), who got surprisingly buff for the role for reasons unknown, given he spends the majority of his screen time thudding away at a keyboard, stabbing thumbtacks into a map and glowering furiously at the sea. Like so many post-internet films, a lack of suspense is Lion’s biggest failing – we still haven’t quite cracked how to make the internet look exciting on screen.
This means the first act, filmed in shaky-cam on the streets of Kolkata, feels significantly more action-packed than the second, with its endless shots of blurry satellite images. Rooney Mara, playing Saroo’s love interest in Melbourne, proves a pointless distraction in a role that seems written purely to give Patel a reason to take his shirt off.
In the end, Nicole Kidman proves to be Lion’s mane event, and her tender performance in a powerful red perm leaps off the screen as she defends the honour of non-biological mothers everywhere. The complicated nature of racial identity is also handled with a great deal of care and attention; Patel portrays a man who’s as out of place in his native India as he is in his adoptive Australia.
In the end, Lion roars home with a finale that pays off, both narratively and emotionally, serving as a welcome reminder that the internet isn’t all bad and there may be hope for the human race yet.