LION IN EXILE
Lion was made worthwhile for me having seen the recent 60 Minutes segment featuring the young man on whom the film is based, which highlighted the evidence supporting his true story.
The first half of the film is made riveting by the performance of 8 year old Sunny Pawar (best screen smile ever) as five year old Saroo, who gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. The challenges of survival faced by Saroo as an abandoned ...child in the seething Calcutta cauldron of inhumanity are terrifying, but it is the vivid dangers of adult human predators provide the true horrors. These scenes are the heart of the film and truly excellent storytelling, cinematography, and direction.
By necessity, the film now takes a giant turn to a less interesting story. After Saroo eventually lands in the living hell of an Indian orphanage, he is chosen to be adopted (no explanation how, although it did actually happen) by an affluent, loving Australian couple who live in Tasmania. These scenes of the young Saroo's immersion into a world of wonder and paradise are also well handled. So too are the scenes when a year later, the family adopts a second child from India, unaware of his debilitating emotional challenges.
The film then makes a jarring jump of twenty years and we meet the now adult, apparently well adjusted and intelligent, Saroo about to leave his adopted family to embark on a hotel management course in Melbourne. The always watchable Dev Patel tries his best in the unforgiving, underwritten role of the adult Saroo. The problem comes in that none of this is anywhere near as interesting as what has come before.
As Saroo goes down the rabbit hole of desperation and obsession, using the (at that time) revolutionary technology of Google Earth and the few memories of his five year old self to find his lost family and first home, he alienates everyone (including the audience) who has ever helped, supported, or cared about him. While the drive to find his lost family is certainly understandable, the film drags through this uninteresting scenario of fruitless searching and self destruction when everyone knows where the story is going.
If these scenes had been cut in half, and more time spent with the story from the skipped twenty years, the film would have been a more cohesive and involving tale. The inevitable happy ending also loses some of its impact because of the stupor the audience has been dragged into by the stodgy middle of the film. The ending still saves the film, especially when footage of the real reunion appear, but the whole in this case is less than the sum of its admirable parts...