Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. Australia, 2016. The Weinstein Company, Screen Australia, See-Saw Films, Aquarius Films, Sunstar Entertainment. Screenplay by Luke Davies, based on the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley. Cinematography by Greig Fraser. Produced by Iain Canning, Angie Fielder, Emile Sherman. Music by Volker Bertelmann, Dustin O’Halloran. Production Design by Chris Kennedy. Costume Design by Cappi Ireland. Film Editing by Alexandre de Franceschi. Academy Awards 2016. Golden Globe Awards 2016. Toronto International Film Festival 2016.
A little boy who lives with his brother, sister and mother in a tiny, poor Indian village gets lost at a train station while waiting for his brother to fetch him, accidentally falling asleep on a train that, when he wakes up, takes him almost two thousand kilometres away before he is able to get out. Lost in the madness of Calcutta, he barely escapes the worst fate of defenseless orphans before a kindly social worker chooses him to be sent to Australia as one of two adopted sons of a loving couple (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham) who raise him. More than twenty years later (now played by Dev Patel), Saroo is haunted by the memory of his family, so fixated on the mother he left behind that it threatens his bond with his family and practically destroys his relationship with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara). His quest to find his home village is the search for a needle in a haystack until the technological innovations of Google Earth lead to many hours spent in front of computer screens and a more tangible dream of home. This intelligent and thoroughly absorbing melodrama is the best kind of tearjerker, a deeply terrifying first half that leads to the much needed release of its second. First time feature filmmaker Garth Davies easily avoids the kind of Great White Hope narrative that has become an eastern world biopic cliche by making sure that the protagonist is always the focus of the story and not his adoptive parents; perhaps it’s because it isn’t actually a Hollywood movie (it’s an Australian production), but it’s rare that a major release is this comfortable not being about white people. That said, Saroo’s parents are presented as heroes and rightly so, as they provide him solid support at every step of his journey and are as much humbled by the enormity of their experience as their son is. Kidman is astounding in her moments as Sue Brierley, giving her son a speech about her life’s mission that only adds to the rich tapestry of lives that this wonderful film encompasses. It’s a film so powerful that you’d have to be heartless not to be at least somewhat affected by it.