True story of ‘Lion’ tugs at heart strings

True story of ‘Lion’ tugs at heart strings

There’s a Google search in “Lion” that is one of the better such sequences on film.

No, really. I have, in the past, occasionally made fun of a movie’s reliance on the exciting spectacle of people typing. In this case, the scene is justified.

That’s because we are watching the adult Saroo, played by Dev Patel, finally zeroing in on the hometown in India he left 25 years earlier. This true story is about a young man — adopted by a family in Tasmania — who manages to put together the pieces of a lost childhood.

The film begins by introducing us to the child Saroo, played by Sunny Pawar. Growing up poor, he and his older brother sometimes scuffle around train stations, scrounging for a way to make money.

On this particular day, Saroo gets lost and accidentally wakes up on a decommissioned train that is traveling for Calcutta. Emerging in that teeming city, he’s too little to be able to describe his home or even name the town he’s from.

The film, directed by Garth Davis from a nonfiction book by the real Saroo Brierly, has some touching material involving the family that adopts Saroo, along with another adopted boy with behavioral problems.

The adoptive parents are played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham (the Aussie actor who played Faramir in “The Lord of the Rings”). Kidman has one standout scene — a narrative about why she adopted kids — that reminds us of how good this actress can be when she gets her chances.

The other strong scene is the Google thing. Here Saroo tracks the possible route of the train that took him from his hometown, and shots from Google Earth combine with movie scenes of his childhood — and darned if it isn’t effective.

Elsewhere, “Lion” is less inspired. Patel, the “Slumdog Millionaire” star, is strong, but his romance with a classmate (Rooney Mara) is just not distinctive. And (although I know this is a true story) there is something strange about why it took so many years for Saroo to connect the dots, given the wonders of the internet.

A lot of the film has a generic feel. Of course, when the story is this heart-tugging, there’s still a probable need for handkerchiefs, even when you see the strings being pulled. You’ve been warned on both counts.

“Lion” (two stars)

The true story of an adopted man (Dev Patel) who tries to track down his lost family in India. Too much of this film is generic in style, but it’s got a handful of effective scenes, and the real story will have audiences reaching for their handkerchiefs. With Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara.

Rating: PG-13, for subject matter

Opens: Dec. 25 at Sundance Cinemas and others

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