Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

02/08/2017

Lion

By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — The incredible true story of one orphan’s 20-year odyssey to find his way back home roars to cinematic life in “Lion” (Weinstein).

Taken from his native India as a boy, Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) grew to manhood in a loving adoptive family in Australia. But he was haunted by his lost childhood and the beloved mother (Priyanka Bose) he left behind. His 2013 memoir (written with Larry Buttrose), “A Long Way Home,” inspired this poignant and uplifting film, directed by Garth Davis.

The story begins in 1986 as a lively tale of two brothers, 5-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his older sibling Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). Life is hard in rural India, and they scavenge for items to resell so they can buy food for their family.

The brothers adore their mother, Kamala, who ekes out a living as a manual labourer, clearing rocks at a nearby quarry.

One night, Saroo follows Guddu to the railway station in search of work. They become separated, and Saroo, wandering into an empty train car, falls asleep.

When Saroo awakens, the train is moving, and he is locked inside. After 1,500 kilometers, the train finally comes to a stop, in the bustling metropolis of Kolkata (then still called Calcutta).

Saroo is terrified by this unknown place teeming with humanity. Unable to remember his family name and home village, he wanders the streets alone, barely escaping abduction.

Months pass before Saroo comes to the attention of the authorities. They advertise his case to locate his parents, but to no avail. So Saroo is put up for adoption, and heads to Australia in the caring embrace of Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierley.

Fast-forward two decades, and Saroo (Patel) is now a well-adjusted and ambitious young man, enrolled in hotel management school along with his cute girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara).

He stands in contrast to his stepbrother, Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), whom the Brierleys also adopted from India, shortly after Saroo. Mantosh suffers from mental illness and can be moody, even violent. The patience and unconditional love offered by his foster parents are inspiring.

Meanwhile, Saroo meets peers who are also of Indian descent, and begins to wonder about his earlier life. Curiosity turns to obsession, and with the help of the internet, Saroo sets out to retrace his long-ago train journey and pinpoint his native village.

“I have to find my way back home,” he tells Sue, who is supportive of his quest.

A five-hankie weepie that packs an emotional wallop, “Lion” emerges as a celebration of family. It also sends a strong pro-life message by underscoring the joys and merits of adoption, and showing that a child can be shared and loved equally by two sets of parents.

In a postscript, “Lion” highlights the disturbing reality that more than 80,000 children go missing in India each year, with most undoubtedly denied the happy ending Saroo enjoyed.

The film contains mature themes and two brief non-graphic non-marital sex scenes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
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The Space Between Us
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Moral blemishes mar the science fiction-tinged romance “The Space Between Us” (STX), making it unsuitable for youngsters and teens.

Dramatically, director Peter Chelsom and screenwriter Allan Loeb waste a promising premise as they imagine the life story of Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), the first human born on Mars.

The product of an unplanned pregnancy, Gardiner’s existence is kept a secret from the world after his astronaut mother, Sarah (Janet Montgomery), dies in childbirth. Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), the founder of the company entrusted with colonizing the red planet — in collaboration with NASA — fears a financially ruinous scandal.

But an online relationship with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a rebellious high school student bruised by her experiences as a foster child, has the now 16-year-old Gardner yearning to travel to Earth. The lonely lad also hopes to find his father.

As a result, he’s willing to face the medical risks the journey poses: Raised in zero gravity, Gardner will have difficulty adjusting to the home orb’s atmosphere, and the consequences could prove fatal.

Locked up in quarantine on his arrival, Gardner fears that Nathaniel and Kendra (Carla Gugino), the Mars colonist who has nurtured him as an informal adoptive mom, are plotting to ship him right back where he started. So he bolts, tracks Tulsa down, and together the two hit the road in search of Dad.

Their picturesque odyssey through the Southwest and out to the coast of California is marked by some low-key, fish-out-of-water humour based on naive Gardner’s lack of conversational inhibitions. And the script uses his unfamiliarity with the beauties of Earth to inspire the audience to reclaim their own awe.

Gardner and Tulsa’s initially innocent bond eventually finds them sharing a sleeping bag under the stars. While no more than the sensuous preliminaries are shown on screen, this is presented as a perfectly natural development and as sensitive, satisfying behaviour.

The duo’s road trip is punctuated by some shoplifting and only made possible by serial car theft. Gardner mumbles some mild objections, but a blithe outlook on filching the property of strangers is depicted as a symptom of Tulsa’s toughness.

These ethical flaws obscure the fact that the script includes relatively little bad language. In fact, at the outset, the dialogue even strikes a vaguely religious note as Sarah declares, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

More prayer and less pilfering, along with a more responsible outlook on youthful sexuality, would have widened the appropriate viewership for “The Space Between Us.” As it is, adolescent astronauts are ill-equipped for this particular space trip.

The film contains a benign view of theft, non-graphic but romanticized underage premarital sexual activity, at least one mild oath, a single crude and several crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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