Saroo Brierley's memoir A Long Way Home examines, in its uncertain prose, one of the signal concerns of our age: How do those of us who have grown up in relative comfort square our good luck with the lot of the rest of the world? That question gets feinted at in Garth Davis' lavish, lopsided Lion. Brierley was born in a small Indian town, then lost at the age of 5 in Kolkata, and at last adopted and raised by a pair of well-heeled Aussies. He returned to India to find his birth family a quarter century after he had gone missing, and the sorrow of those years -- and the guilt of having been given a life of plenty and opportunity denied to them -- haunts A Long Way Home.
In Lion, it's just mentioned. Commercial filmmaking still fumbles interiority and moral complexity. So it's fortunate for the filmmakers that Brierley's book also is thick with the kinds of things that crowdpleasers ace. Here's a globe-trotting boy-on-his-own adventure, a narrative of scrappy survival and familial love and many teary reconciliations, tracing the outlines of Brierley's life in a busy two hours. The lost-in-India scenes prove compelling, often scary and beautiful at once, especially whenever Saroo is in flight. In the lurching third act, in which Saroo is all hunkily grown up (played by Dev Patel) and trying to make sense of his life, I found myself wishing the movie would either add a half-hour to its running time to flesh out the platoon of new characters (played by Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, and more) or just skip to the waterworks.