Director: Garth Davis
Writer: Luke Davies; based on A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley & Larry Buttrose
Cinematographer: Greig Fraser
Producer: Iain Canning, Angie Fielde, and Emile Sherman
by Jon Cvack
This was one of the earliest Oscar contending films I heard about. It actually played at a few of the film festivals Road to the Well screened at, but in one instance, the screening was during the awards show, and the other was an issue of the festival having two separate theaters a 20 minute drive from each other, learning we were at the wrong theater. I had heard some incredible things, specifically regarding Dev Patel’s performance, which is pretty good, but what starts off as one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in years, reminiscent of Satyajit Ray's Aparajito or Jean Renoir’s The River, took a quick nose dive toward melodrama, often failing to keep logic at the forefront.
The film starts with the impoverished siblings, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his brother Guddu (Abhisek Bharate), who scrounge around town in search of coal and other items they could sell for some money to buy additional food and treats. One night, Guddu is about to go off his journey and Saroo begging to come along. The pair end up at the train station where Guddu has Saroo stay put and sleep while Guddu goes off to do something. Saroo later wakes up with Guddu nowhere in sight. Saroo eventually ends up on a train that locks up and takes him to Calcutta. There he nearly fall victim to countless sex trade hunters who wish to steal him. Saroo ends up in an orphanage where he’s soon adopted by an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham).
It was up to this point that I was absolutely blown by all the elements. Although many are raving about Dev Patel, I think Sunny Pawar stole the entire show, providing such strong moments of depth and reflection, in which I no longer saw a little boy, but a man behind those eyes, having to maintain the courage to keep on going. This was all portrayed with Greg Fraiser’s beautiful photography and Garth Davis’ impeccable direction. Much of the story shows us information rather than telling us a thing. Like Truffaut’s great kid films, we were in the point of view of a child, discovering the world and information as a child would. With the Indian backdrop, we got to see a world that is both exotic and terrifying.
However, once it moves to twenty years later, it was as though someone else took the helm. Saroo is now in his late twenties, determined to become a rich hotel owner. He meets a girl from his class Lucy (Rooney Mara), and in an awkward dance number along the street, the two end up at a party where Saroo has a breakdown when seeing some candies. He explains to everyone his story, and they tell him to use Google Earth, in which he can look up the train speeds, draw a radius, and try and find where his parents are. This all happens so quickly that it contradicts the first third’s realism. We don’t really know much about Saroo except for his professional aspirations and that his brother is a drug addict. There was also something particularly stupid about this entire Google Earth plan, in that I refuse to believe that Saroo never thought about attempting to use a map to find his parents.
It was here that the movie went from masterpiece to melodrama, sacrificing logic for what they think was a much better direction in having Saroo obsess over maps, destroy his relationships, and keep clicking around Google Earth in search of a water tower. Looking at the logic, he finds a range that his train must have been in, and then finds all the towns within that range. If I’m being generous, the total number of towns is about a hundred. Considering all he has to do is look at the city, find it on Google Earth, locate the train station and then use Google Maps street view to look for a water tower, I imagine each city might take fifteen minutes to examine but to better prove my point imagine each city takes an hour. That’s about 100 hours, of course. Given that he’s clearly working on this all day and all night, with a few hours of sleep, let’s say he spends a conservative 12 hours a day doing this. It’d take him about eight days to find and examine all these cities, in which the apparent weeks and months of searching doesn’t make any sense at all. This was a similar issue I had with Truth (2015), where when the team is attempting to call about twenty names on a whiteboard, there’s a long montage extending to what looks like weeks, with each person refusing to talk when in fact, if no one’s willing to talk, you should discover the lack of progress within maybe a day or two.
Of course, Saroo finds the town, done in a way that was even more upsetting, in that it was like an inch outside his search radius, meaning even though he’s using the most general trigonometric concepts, he never thought to think that maybe he should search within the margin of error. He ends up heading to his town, meeting his mother, and of course I get some tears building up, and the story ends.
While some might think I’m nitpicking the search aspect, this took up what felt like over forty five minutes of the film. I kept wanting to return to India, and continue following Saroo along. Instead, we’d go back to Google Earth, some people would cry, and then an argument would start. The second half felt as though they forfeited any type of arc to get Saroo back to India as quickly as possible. I guess dealing with the fact that it’s a true a story you can’t really embellish much. It simply never returns to the strength of that first third.
BELOW: Movie would never have existed without Google
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