Lion is a majestic, heartfelt drama that delivers an almighty emotional wallop

Based on a true story, Lion is the wonderfully written, strikingly filmed tale about a man on a quest to trace his roots that's so brimful of life-affirming emotion it'll melt the coldest of hearts, writes Damon Smith

Dev Patel and Rooney Mara in Lion

HOME is where the heart is, but when memories of that place of sanctuary are cruelly stolen at an early age, can you truly be at peace? One man's extraordinary true-life odyssey – to locate the birth mother and older brother he lost at the age of five – provides the inspiration for Garth Davis's life-affirming drama, which looks set for recognition in multiple categories at next month's Academy Awards.

Screenwriter Luke Davies has skilfully adapted the non-fiction book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, elegantly cutting back and forth between traumatic events more than 20 years apart to accompany the lead character on his seemingly hopeless quest for emotional closure.

Dev Patel and Sunny Pawar are both terrific as the 26-year-old and five-year-old incarnations of Saroo, who is unexpectedly transplanted from Khandwa, where family and friends speak Hindi, to the giddy whirl of Calcutta, where residents speak Bengali, and then on to Australia.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser captures these three locations on two continents in rich and meticulous detail, providing a compelling backdrop to the heart-wrenching trials and tribulations that will reduce audiences to puddles of saltwater emotion.

Saroo (Sunny Pawar) lives in 1987 Khandwa with his mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) and siblings. The five-year-old idolises his 12-year-old brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) and the two boys embark on a night-time excursion to the local railway station. A horrible twist of fate separates the children and Saroo is trapped aboard a train, which heads 1,600km east to the bustling shanty towns of Calcutta.

Unable to speak the language, the boy eventually meets Saroj Sood (Deepti Naval), who runs the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption and places him with adoptive parents John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham, Nicole Kidman) in Hobart, Tasmania.

Many years later, Saroo (now played by Patel) is enrolled on a course at the Royal Melbourne College of Hotel Management and casually confesses details of his past to other Indian students. They encourage him to use online satellite mapping software to trace the railway line from Calcutta back west.

Fellow student Lucy (Rooney Mara) pledges her support to Saroo, whose studies suffer as he stares at pixels on his laptop screen, looking in vain for a station with a water tower that might be Khandwa.

Lion is a majestic, heartfelt drama that delivers an almighty emotional wallop as Saroo gradually pieces together his past. Director Davis deftly moves between timeframes as he elicits riveting performances from Patel, Pawar and Kidman as a proud mother who will never stand in the way of her beautiful boy tracing his bloodline.

If a few stony-hearted souls remain steadfastly dry-eyed to the end, real-life footage over the credits and an explanation of the film's enigmatic title set to the soaring vocals of Australian chart-topper Sia, will prize open the floodgates.

LION (PG, 118 mins) Drama/Romance. Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval. Director: Garth Davis

RATING: 8.5/10

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