A five-year-old Indian boy (Sunny Pawar) gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
This film based on a true story, “A Long Way Home“, tells the incredible story of Saroo Brierly, and is a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (amongst others) and stands a great chance at taking out the top gong this February.
Director Garth Davis (Top of the Lake) uses images in original and unique ways to tell this story spanning over a quarter of a decade in under two hours.
The first third of the film details the harrowing life experienced by Saroo (and thousands of kids) on the streets of India where any number of predators are waiting to pounce, even while kids are under the authority of an official orphanage.
Saroo and his brother Guddu ride the trains looking for any opportunity to provide for their mum and sister, living together in poverty on the fringes of Indian life.
Saroo becomes separated from his brother one night when Guddu reluctantly lets the little boy tag along in his hunt for work, and the five-year-old boy becomes stuck on a decommissioned train that travels for days across the vast Indian continent, finally coming to rest in an area that speaks a different language to Saroo’s basic vocabulary.
Saroo is desperate to find a way home, but in a strange place 1600 kilometres from his home village he stands little chance and by the miracle of God he survives this brutal existence by trusting his instincts and with the help of quick thinking and even quicker feet he escapes situations that can only end in tragedy, before being sent to Australia in 1986 where he lives with Tasmanian couple Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierly in relative peace and comfort.
The film jumps ahead 20 years and we see Saroo, now played by Dev Patel, in his most mature and fully inhabited role, apparently thriving in his loving family, pursuing a career in hospitality and falling in love with Lucy (Rooney Mara).
But underneath the surface, emotions gnaw away at him. When he attends a friends dinner party and comes face to face with the Indian street food that he used to dream of being able to afford with his brother Guddu, Saroo confronts the immense, unsettling and seemingly impossible challenge inside of him – he must find his home.
And so he sets about retracing his steps back across India with the help of Google Earth and the memories embedded deep within him. All this is achieved in the most tender and human way, avoiding any of the mawkish paths this film could have trodden, as Davis and his cast craft exquisite scenes that propel the film along to an inevitable conclusion as we hold our collective breaths when Saroo attempts to track down his family in India.
Not a single frame is squandered in this compelling telling of an impossible story. Reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech, this is Academy fodder and I am fascinated by how Lion will perform amongst such a strong field of dramatic films including Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea, as well as other true stories including Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures and Loving.
For me, Lion IS the Best Picture this year. Every family needs to see this film. 5 Stars.