The Weinstein Company             120 minutes   PG-13

You’re going to fall in love with little Sunny Pawar when you see him in Lion. He beat out 2000 boys to play 5-year-old Saroo, a boy in India who gets separated from his family and becomes a street urchin thousands of miles away. He was not an actor but he is now. We see this teeny figure against the huge landscape lost and we fear for his life in so many dangerous situations. But much of this story is really about Google Earth and how it helped Saroo find his way back to his village.

This is a true story based the memoir “A Long Way Home” by the real Saroo Brierley. It’s an Australian film directed by award winning Garth Davis and starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. The script, by Luke Davies, was picked up for production at the Cannes Film Festival. Patel says this is a story about mothers and sons that he was attracted to because of his own relationship with his mother.

Five-year-old Saroo and his brother Guddu, (Abhishek Bharate) help his mother, Kamla (Priyanka Bose) by stealing coal from trains going through their impoverished village. Guddu is the best brother ever! He really cares and protects Saroo plus, they have fun together. One night, the brothers get separated and little Saroo falls asleep on a train that takes him to the other side of the continent, Calcutta. But he can’t make himself understood because they speak a different dialect there.

You’re afraid for him every minute, not knowing if he’ll be taken away or taken advantage of. There is plenty of footage following Saroo as a child for almost the first half the movie. You see how he ends up in a run down, depressing orphanage until he is adopted by Australian couple Sue and John Brierly,  played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham, (Lord of the Rings, 300). Kidman said she really enjoyed being in an Australian film and playing a red headed Aussie, which she says is unusual for her these days. Ironically, Sunny could not speak English when he got the part, but learned playing cricket with Kidman and Wenham, and those scenes playing cricket ended up in the movie.

Everything is going well with his new family and Saroo is the model child who excels in everything from sports to academics. But the Brierlys adopt another son who is more difficult to handle. Mantosh, played by Divian Ladwia has problems, but to their credit, the parents try their best and Saroo tries to be there for everyone in his family, too.

Saroo goes off to start a career taking classes to go into Hospitality Management. In class, he interacts with other Indian students and they ask questions about his background. That’s when tells them the parts of it from his early child that he remembers himself. In the process, they tell him about this new app, Google Earth which could help him find his home. He decides to experiment with the new technology and becomes obsessed with trying to find his family. He knows she’s worried about him all these years. The search takes over his life, even putting his girlfriend, Lucy, played by Rooney Mara, aside.

Patel wanted this role because he wanted the challenge to show he could do something different. That skinny string bean you remember from  Slumdog Millionaire and Newsroom put on muscle for this role, grew his hair long and grew a beard. He looks very different than you’ve seen him before. He also gets to show a lot more emotion as we see him struggle with his relationships in this film. He doesn’t want to disrespect his adopted mother by wanting to find his real mother. He just had this need to let his birth mother know he’s ok.

Dev Patel says Kidman as Sue really got to him in the scene where they talk about their mother/son relationship. He was really moved by the way she explained that she never wanted any other children but he and his brother. Patel said the scene made even more of an impact on him because he knows the actress has her own adopted children.

Rooney Mara does not play a huge part in this film. She’s there to be supportive and encourage Saroo until he takes it to the edge. Mara could have been used more but does a credible job trying to be sympathetic to his mission.

This is really two films. The first part of the film relies more on the descriptive visuals and contrast between Saroo’s poor village and the big city. There is more emphasis on emotion and less on dialogue, even though Sunny’s little hoarse voice is so cute. in the rest of the film, Director Garth Davis had his challenges shooting in congested areas in the city, having to block people from streets and a busy bridge likened to the size of the Golden Gate in San Francisco. And he had to shoot those scenes overnight!

Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman are sensitive and excellent in their roles, but they’re better than the material in the last half of the film. Despite that, they deliver a very emotional conclusion. Their relationship is touching and heartfelt as is the feelings he has for his birth family. Saroo’s journey home took more than 20 years, but this two-hour trip takes you to a very good place.