FENCES: “A film of complex characters portrayed masterfully.”

Fences is the film adaptation of August Wilson’s successful play of the same name.

It is of course always touch and go as to whether stage productions translate convincingly to the big screen, and it’s Denzel Washington – both directing and performing here, having himself acted in the play’s successful 2010 revival on Broadway – who attempts to bring Wilson’s vision to the big screen.

Set in a working class neighbourhood of Pittsburgh, Troy Maxson (Washington), a refuse collector, lives in a modest house with his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), and youngest son, Cory (Jovan Adepo).

Troy is a dominant personality. Unafraid to voice his opinions, he likes the sound of his own voice, and reigns over ‘his’ household through a combination of high moral values, and stubborn inflexibility. It is however arguably Rose’s motherly, more diplomatic approach to family, and life in general, that is really the glue that holds this household together.

Theirs is a life of relatively simple routine; the sort born out of both financial restraints, and the rather traditional gender roles that each adopts within the household.

Such an apparently workable and measured existence, however, masks a multitude of issues which escalate steadily as the film progresses, and it’s Troy’s need to project his own ideals, fears and bitter prejudices onto others, that is generally the main cause of this increasing unrest.

Troy and his closest friend and work colleague, Jim, (Stephen Henderson), will often wax lyrical about anything and everything over a bottle of gin at the end of a working day. Poor Rose, the very model of restrained poise and patience, must endure these occasionally charming, yet frequently self-righteous monologues – an often raucous blend of humour and baseball analogies.

Troy’s life is one of grudges and mistrust. A star baseball player in America’s ‘Negro’ leagues back in the day, he feels that his opportunities to progress into the major leagues were hampered by his skin colour alone. Whilst issues of racial prejudice have by no means been vanquished from 1950s American society – far from it – they are by no means the entirely debilitating issue that once they were.

But Troy will hear none of it.

“You best not be worrying about whether someone likes you, you just worry about whether they do right by you…” – or words to that effect. This is Troy’s mantra and life-instruction to youngest son, Cory, whose promising American football career his father insists is to play second fiddle to the security afforded by the part-time job Cory holds down after school.

Troy’s mistrust of the intentions of Cory’s football coach are a serious impediment to the dreams and aspirations of his son; the very same dreams and aspirations that Troy himself had clutched to as a younger man.

No matter the argument though, Troy’s mind is not for turning.

Perhaps the hardest thing for Troy to accept, however – in light of his unshakable principles – is the fact that his only brother, Gabriel (the excellent Mykelti Williamson), suffers from serious mental health issues, the result of a terrible injury sustained serving his country. Without Gabriel’s subsequent insurance payout, Troy would never have been able to pay for the roof above his own family’s head.

This deeply troubles the extremely principled Troy; a man racked with guilt. A man of foolish pride.

Troy’s catalogue of personal trials and tribulations the Maxson household has collectively learnt to deal with. But everything will soon pale into relative insignificance owing to the shattering news that Troy must somehow find the strength to divulge to his family…

If you were unaware beforehand, it’s pretty obvious that Fences is a piece adapted from the stage. Granted there are subtle directorial attempts to introduce a slightly less static, more cinematic interest to proceedings through the occasional use of tracking or arc camera shots, but essentially, Fences is comprised of a series of lengthy, dialogue-heavy scenes.

The interaction and chemistry between Washington, Davis and Henderson in particular, is first class, with exceptional performance from Viola Davis, but in particular, from the director himself.

Denzel Washington’s big screen career has been long and successful, but there have always been nagging doubts as to the quality of the roles that he’s found himself cast in. With the notable exception of films like American Gangster or more recently, Flight, Washington, arguably, has rarely found himself in truly weighty or demanding roles. This is something of an anomaly considering the man’s inarguably strong acting talents.

From his early appearances in the wonderful St Elsewhere, it was apparent that this was a man with both magnetic allure and substantial gravitas, clearly destined for big things. And so it has proved when you take into account that Washington is a continued major box-office draw. A commercially successful actor, very much dining at Hollywood’s top table. But the role of Troy, in Fences, seems to have been an awfully long time coming. It’s a big role that makes great demands of a great actor, and in this case, brilliantly showcases the man’s abilities.

There are many reasons to heap praise upon Fences, but more than anything this is a film of performances. A film of complex characters portrayed masterfully – and none more so than Troy himself.










T2 TRAINSPOTTING: “Begbie…the very last man on earth you’d ever want to share a pint with.”

What do the following three films all have in common?

A Nightmare on Elm StreetGrease and The Blair Witch Project


Suffice it to say that they were all highly original, hugely iconic films that spawned utterly abysmal sequels. Indeed, the number of great movies that have had their good reputation tarnished by massively inferior follow-ups is, to coin a phrase, absolutely off-the-chart.

By all accounts Danny Boyle wrestled with this very dilemma when daring to re-kindle the flames of his hugely influential 1996 outing, Trainspotting. Allegedly he and the original cast members having agreed to revisit their original roles, were all feeling the full weight of pressure and expectation upon their now, far more experienced shoulders.

The very good news though is that Danny Boyle’s 2017 sequel, T2 Trainspotting, has not only not tarnished the original’s reputation, but surpassed any expectations that we could reasonably have had for it.

It’s twenty years on, and Mark Renton’s unceremonious flit – £16,000 to the good – has been largely forgotten and confined to history by his former comrades, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie. Everyone’s moved on in their lives, and they laugh heartily about it all now.

Of course, pretty much all of the above is nonsense.

Renton (Ewan McGregor), sheepishly returns to Edinburgh in a bid to reacquaint himself and square things off with his old sparring buddies of yesteryear. Plenty of time has passed, but not much seems to have really changed. Spud (Ewen Bremner) – the only member of the gang, bar Renton, that had seen any of the loot, and had subsequently used his quarter share the only way he knew how, cementing his stature as a hardcore heroin addict – is still fighting his addiction demons. Simon, a.k.a Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) – with a sassy young Eastern European girlfriend in tow, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) – is still a ‘wrongun’ and one of life’s hustlers, albeit on a slightly more adventurous, not to mention controversial stage these days.

And Begbie (Robert Carlyle)? Well, Begbie is still Begbie; holed-up where he belongs and can do the least amount of damage to society, behind bars.

It’s fair to say that Renton’s return ruffles a feather or two as he attempts to reintegrate himself back into the lives of those that he had so unceremoniously left behind all those years back. It’s a return that has evoked an under current of ill-feeling, stirring up thoughts of retribution. With tensions running high, and the spectre of Begbie’s reappearance impossible to rule out even with him apparently safely locked away at Her Majesty’s pleasure, you could, and indeed should expect fireworks from T2, and lots of them.

T2 Trainspotting is a slick piece for sure, and successfully manages to retain all of the punch and swagger of the original, creating some new, highly memorable set-pieces of its own in the process. In addition, the danger of over-playing the chief characteristics of each of its cast members has thankfully been averted; a relief given the propensity for sequels to succumb to the need to create over-blown pastiches of ‘favourite’ characters. That said,  Begbie’s larger-than-life persona does sail a little too close to the wind for comfort at times.

Renton may now be deemed a rather divisive character, yet he still somehow manages to be a galvanising presence. Sick Boy remains largely self-centered, whilst Spud cuts a slightly tragic, highly vulnerable figure; the sort that tends to always encourage ground swells of overwhelming good will and support from concerned acquaintances.

Begbie on the other hand remains psychotic and unhinged, all these years on. A most deranged of lunatics and the very last man on earth you’d ever want to share a pint with.

Danny Boyle’s gamble with potentially destroying the rose-tinted legacy of this most cultish of classics has clearly paid off. A long awaited follow-up which should hopefully keep an army of fans satisfied for the next twenty years or so. Beyond that, who knows.

Whether T2 Trainspotting is quite as relevant to, or will have anywhere near the same impact upon a new generation, however – the way that Trainspotting did back in the day – I’m ill-equipped to say, being as I am a part of that previous generation.

Granted, it’s a film sprinkled with in-jokes and subtle references to its predecessor that may be a little lost on those that are not ‘in the know’, but there have certainly been concerted efforts made to bring Trainspotting’s original outlook and ideology into the present day and to a new market. Most notably is a superbly modified take on Renton and Sick Boy’s original ‘Choose Life’ monologue, although its recipient on this occasion, Veronika, seems more bewildered than beguiled by Renton’s passionate reprisal of this most caustic and sarcastic of diatribes.

Gritty, ‘sweary’, and littered with genuinely funny moments throughout, T2 Trainspotting is an excellent blend of high-entertainment, nostalgia, and pertinent modern day social comment. Perhaps not quite up to the standards of the 1996 original, but don’t get too hung up about comparisons. T2 Trainspotting stands more than ably on its own two feet.

HIDDEN FIGURES: “…an ode to hard work, commitment, restraint and tolerance in the face of racial prejudice.”

1960s NASA wasn’t all thick-rimmed spectacled number-crunchers in lab coats carrying clip boards, you know.

Hidden Figures offers a more accurate depiction of an organisation in a time in which the United States and Russia were feverishly attempting to out-do one another in their quest to explore outer space, and ultimately to place a man on the moon.

Living as we do today in a world so utterly dependant upon the power of the computer, it seems hard to believe that there was ever a time not so very long ago in which we relied far more upon raw brain power, and a time when institutions such as NASA would employ vast teams of mathematicians in order to perform the considerable brain gymnastics required to calculate rocket trajectories and the like.

Whilst it should be acknowledged that racism still rears its ugly head in today’s society, it’s also hard to believe that there was actually a time, in relatively recent memory, when ‘coloured’ folk were considered to be such second class citizens in their own country.

Theodore Melfi’s film portrays a society that has implemented, almost without recourse to  moral values, a system of segregation which thinks nothing of allocating ‘coloured’ seats on buses, insists upon the use of separate toilet facilities, and rations books within public libraries for the ‘negro’ population, denying them the resources with which they might improve their lot in life.

Despite their skin colour, Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), owing to their considerable mathematical talents, have all found employment within NASA. These African American ladies and their colleagues are confined to claustrophobic quarters in a separate building, far away from their white peers. There, they spend each day doing the academic leg-work for NASA’s white employees who, needless to say, are the ones to enjoy the benefits of their toil.

Despite a considerable shortage of opportunities to progress, the sassy trio all seem hell-bent upon bucking the trend and making headway in the fiercely white-dominated world in which they live. By hook or by crook, they’re not going to miss an opportunity, and if need be, they’ll make their own.

Melfi’s film is slick, well-paced and very watchable, if perhaps lacking in a little depth here and there. It tells an important story though, and one, due to its PG-rating, that will be accessible to a younger generation too, and considering the important life lessons to be learnt here, that can only be a good thing. That said, the PG-rating here is a bit of a mixed blessing. Issues of racial divides, slavery and so on have all been well covered at the cinema in recent years. Importantly, historical accounts of racial tensions that have been committed to celluloid in the past have tended to be fairly weighty, graphic and explicit affairs. Hidden Figures in comparison seems a tad lightweight and superficial. Whilst one wouldn’t expect additional malevolent content to be added purely for gratuitous effect, it does seem as though a greater focus could have been made on the maddening psychological impact that each of the ladies must have experienced at the hands of an obdurate peer-base and society in general.

If nothing else, Hidden Figures – owing to the relentless drive and will to succeed exemplified by its three leading ladies – is an ode to hard work, commitment, restraint and tolerance in the face of racial prejudice. Most importantly of all though, it shows the real value of always being prepared to grab hold of life’s opportunities when they come along, no matter how scarce those opportunities may appear to be.

Hidden Figures is a film that proudly suggests – cliché or not – that it matters not what our race or creed may be when we are all working together towards a common goal.

It’s hardly a ground-breaking sentiment, and may seem obvious to us twenty-first century citizens of planet earth, but given the attitudes of America’s deep south in the 1960s, it’s a sentiment that would most definitely have been considered “one massive step for mankind…” – if you’ll excuse the ropey astronomical parlance!








FILM REVIEW: Toni Erdmann

Critically acclaimed comedies tend to attract some of the more peculiar and polarising critical reviews, in my experience.

Toni Erdmann is apparently “brilliantly funny…” according to the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times talks of moving from “…one heartfelt, hilarious scene to the next…”, whereas Screen International suggests that it is “…at times, downright hilarious…”

To be honest, none of this I agree with.

Naturally, one man’s meat is another man’s poison – as the old saying goes – with the comedy genre being perhaps the most subjective of them all. It’s also only fair to say that I’ve hand-picked the above examples purely to illustrate a point, and that the majority of reviews I’ve witnessed are not in fact anywhere near as emphatic about any sort of ‘hilarity’ at work within Toni Erdmann. But almost without exception, they are all gushing in their praise of it.

And rightly so, for Toni Erdmann is a quite simply wonderful piece of film-making. Be in no doubt about that.

Maren Ade’s film fuses a mostly subtle strand of comedy with an underlying melancholia in this absorbing tale of a disfunctional father/daughter relationship.

Ines (Sandra Hüller), is a high achiever, an employee of a ruthless consultancy firm employed to number crunch and make those big tactical decisions that ‘streamline’ big corporations, yet inevitably negatively impact upon the jobs and lives of their employees. Despite the apparent hindrance of her being a woman in a male-dominated industry, she strives hard to make an impact and to be noticed, and is considered cold and ruthless by her peers. Her current placement sees her marooned, along with her team, out in a world of business meetings, and corporate hotels, in Bucharest.

Her father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a practical joker and warm-hearted soul, is cut from rather different cloth. A music teacher by profession and relatively free-spirit by nature, he is essentially content with his life, yet feels as though he has grown apart from his daughter over the years, and rarely gets the opportunity to spend any sort of meaningful time with her. With the passing of his beloved old pet dog, Willi, so too passes any real reason for him to feel anchored to his home environment anymore, and on a whim, he decides one day to take some time out and make an impromptu visit to the Romanian capital, to surprise his daughter.

To suggest that Winfried’s appearance is not entirely welcome, is to understate the point, dramatically. Initially horrified by her father impinging upon her professional life, Ines gradually mellows a little, but still considers his appearance to be far too much of a distraction from the serious business of career climbing. Ines would far rather he re-arranged his visit for a more mutually convenient time in the future, but Winfried knows his daughter, and therefore knows that this will never happen. He has other plans…

Comedy teeth in hand, and rubbish wig on head, he sets about having a little harmless fun at his daughter’s expense , deliberately missing his flight home, and instead sticking around and adopting an alter-ego, Toni Erdmann; a tactic which, considering his daughter’s serious demeanour and innate inability to see the funny side of pretty much anything, is ill-advised, to say the least.

Tiring of her father’s shenanigans, Ines comes to the gradual realisation that ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ may just be the only approach effective enough to disuade Winfried from his unabating antics. With this in mind, she sets about trying to upstage him, employing until now unheard of (for her) extremes, with genuinely amusing and slightly outrageous results.

Once the preconception that Toni Erdmann is in some way a ‘veritable laugh-riot’ has been suitably vanquished from one’s mind, it can then be fully appreciated on another, far more meaningful level altogether.

Sandra Hüller is superbly Germanic in her seriousness, portraying a woman who has not only completely lost sight of the joy in life, but has forgotten how to re-ignite that spark once again. Barely a flicker of emotion is in evidence upon her face throughout the film’s lengthy 2 hours and 40 minutes duration – occasional fits of disapproving frustration and the odd tear-welling, aside. Her tunnel-visioned crusade to make a name for herself within her industry is all very commendable and understandable, yet seems entirely at the expense of embracing anything or anyone else in her life. Very much alive, but certainly not living.

Peter Simonischek’s portrayal of her father is cleverly underplayed considering the ‘class clown’ moniker with which he is labelled by those that know him, as he subtly yet insistently attempts to infiltrate the corporate bubble in which Ines is so firmly entrenched.

The interplay between the disparate pair is at times hard to watch but always convincing, and makes for a curious yet slightly tragic study of broken family relationships, with Ines unwilling – or perhaps unable? – to clutch the olive branch of reconciliation that her father frequently presents her with, through his own particular brand of comedic buffoonery.

It’s charming, it’s beautifully paced, engrossing and actually quite emotionally-draining. Despite its lengthy duration, it also never threatens to outstay its welcome. Quite the opposite, in fact, and a sign of the engagement levels that Maren Ade’s direction has been able to successfully achieve.

Hats off to that.

Far more than just a comedy, Toni Erdmann operates on an altogether deeper and very personal level, and is very much one of the highlights of the year, thus far.



There are a number of ‘accepted truths’ that the human race seems to settle upon. Some are considered so incontrovertible and utterly sacrosanct, that to even consider questioning them is to risk the wrath of the majority.

Such ‘truths’ are very often linked heavily to people’s emotions and there’s therefore a considerable amount of personal-attachment or vested interest that one must tip-toe around and take into account before daring to offer anything resembling a difference of opinion.

Unless your name is David Irving, that is.

Director Mick Jackson’s film, Denial, recounts the Irving vs Lipstadt libel case which came about as a result of Deborah Lipstadt’s alleged defamation of Irving and his own historical conclusions regarding the Jewish Holocaust of World War II.

David Irving caused quite the stir with his insistence that no Jews were actually gassed at Auschwitz during World War II, and that any claims that they had been, were merely guess work – essentially unfounded.

Waving a wad of one thousand pounds above his head as a reward, Irving stands at the rear of the auditorium in which Lipstadt is giving a seminar, and challenges both Deborah and anyone there that subscribes to her version of history, to produce just one single document to prove him wrong. Deborah’s flat refusal to debate with anyone that she terms to be a ‘denier’ he takes as proof that she can’t.

The unfolding scenario is quick to capture the imaginations of the media and naturally therefore the general public, ultimately leading the pair towards their big show-down at London’s Royal Courts of Justice.

On paper, this is the kind of subject matter that’s absolutely made for the big screen. An apparently outrageous suggestion, an allegedly defamatory reaction, with one huge mother of a legal battle to follow.

Roll V.T…

Mick Jackson’s film however somehow manages to miss most of its cues and opportunities, and succeeds only in converting the film’s contentious, somewhat prickly talking points into a remarkably tepid affair, and it’s not difficult to see why.

It is true that Rachel Weisz is perfectly decent as the emotional and rather sanctimonious, Lipstadt, whilst Tom Wilkinson’s depiction of Richard Rampton QC, is reassuringly weighty. The real problem lies with Timothy Spall. There’s nothing wrong with his performance per se, there’s just not enough of it. Whereas Lipstadt’s character is examined in some depth throughout the piece, Irving’s character is almost brushed off as an irrelevance in this contrived fight between good and evil. Half-drawn as some sort of a cartoon villain, complete with hangers-on from assorted right-wing groups of dubious purpose, his character is then, to all intents and purposes, abandoned –  starved of oxygen, much in the same way that his highly contentious opinions were deliberately given no platform whatsoever within the court room – a tactic employed by Lipstadt’s legal team that would ultimately prove to be decisive.

No matter what your opinion of Irving’s ‘work’ may be, and no matter the possibly spurious nature of his motives, the fact remains; if a film presents nothing but a deeply one-sided argument – such as is the case here – it really is no argument at all; more a fait accompli, and that, in the context of film-making is, quite frankly, disappointing.

There are however areas in which it’s only fair to suggest that Denial film does deliver. It’s not all insubstantial. In particular, the vastly differing approaches exemplified within the defence. The emotionally-driven approach of Lipstadt and a number of Holocaust survivors who assemble daily at the court – and whose voices Lipstadt firmly believes should be heard as evidence – is in stark contrast to the more reserved, measured and logic-driven decisions of her legal team, and at times makes an insightful and intriguing spectacle. It doesn’t, however, alter the fact that there’s a definite sense of underwhelming superficiality about Denial. It’s a film which, on balance, lacks inspiration, glosses over content far too readily, fails to probe sufficiently into the life and motives of Mr Irving, and consequently simply falls flat. It fails to really ask too much of its viewers other than to insist that they all come along for the ride, on a fast-tracked, pre-determined journey to a well-known, agreed upon destination.

Perhaps the film’s rather one-eyed approach is best summed up by the words of Deborah Lipstadt, herself: “Now, some people are saying that the result of this trial will threaten free speech. I don’t accept that. I’m not attacking free speech. On the contrary, I’ve been defending it against someone who wanted to abuse it…”

In other words: you may say what you like, but you can’t say some things if I, and many others don’t agree with them – a.k.a, denying truly free speech.

All things considered, Denial is a neat and tidy little film, conveniently tied-up with a pretty little bow, but it’s badly lacking in a number of areas. Worse still, it’s a severely imbalanced piece, and perhaps worst of all, an enormous waste of Timothy Spall’s considerable talents.


Director Damien Chazelle is clearly an entertainer. This is obvious from his stupendous 2015-offering, Whiplash, a film which grabbed its viewer, span them around, whisked them along on an uber-tense, white knuckle ride, and spat them out again.


La La Land is Chazelle’s follow-up effort, and whilst it may not offer the edge-of-seat tension of its predecessor, it is nonetheless, pure and joyous entertainment.

A nostalgic throwback to the golden age of the Hollywood musical – I’m just trotting that line out, in fairness. You’ll do well to convince me that anything has ever been in any way golden when it comes to the ‘Musicals’ genre – it tells the story of an aspirational young guy and girl, who dream their starry-eyed dreams amidst the sparkling lights and inevitable crushing disappointment of that most cruel of honey traps that forever allures America’s creative wannabes… Los Angeles.

She – Mia, (Emma Stone) – is a struggling actress working in a coffee shop. She dreams of fame on the big screen. He, on the other hand – Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) – is a pianist. A jazz enthusiast, in its purest, most traditional form. He continues to wax lyrical about the virtues of Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk, whilst being told that the world of jazz has evolved and is rapidly passing him by. His dream is to open his own jazz club in which he will somehow keep the candle of traditional jazz burning. A place dedicated not only to the original essence of America’s one truly great original art form, but just as importantly, a place dedicated to his own dreams.

Frequent chance encounters throw this hapless pair together – not without some initial resistance – but little by little they succumb to the spark that is so clearly evident between them. They provide one another with the support and sense of belief that they really can fulfil all of their dreams, together.

But sometimes there’s an inevitability that our dreams will always come at considerable personal cost.

There’s nothing particularly new or innovative about La La Land. It’s a film that  unashamedly wears its many influences upon its sleeve. We’ve seen it all before, but that is most certainly not to say that Chazelle’s big screen musical is in any way tired, lacking in inspiration or deserves to be denigrated in any way. Far from it. It may lack true originality, but it delivers, in no uncertain terms.

Musically, La La Land hits the spot.

An opening number that embraces both L.A’s considerable Latin influence, and the all-singing-all-dancing musicals of yesteryear, is, if anything, a little misleading. Such large-scale, finely choreographed mainstays of the Hollywood musical genre are, in the case of La La Land, in short supply. Once the director has got jazz hands, non-sensical dancing and sliding across car bonnets out of his system, the film settles down into a rather more intimate love story of sorts, chronicling the struggles of two like-minded artistes trying to make it in the big city – punctuated by a selection of more personal music and songs.

Justin Hurwitz’s score is deservedly picking up widespread recognition and acclaim. Although not necessarily overly-memorable initially, his songs and motif-laden incidental music will slowly find a way to lodge itself deep under your skin. It seems to share that same all-Californian sunny disposition that we readily associate with The Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson in particular. Indeed, elements of Wilson’s 2007 album Lucky old sun are in evidence here, and Hurwitz’s jazz-infused, feel-good, melody-rich score is all the better for it.

Vocally, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone impress with their raw but honest delivery, which is surprisingly decent, and used to good effect – Stone’s Oscar-nominated song performed at an acting audition being particularly effective.

Visually, La La Land merges reality with sort of theatrical sets, filtered through an explosion of vibrant technicolour, thus creating something of a dreamy haze. It’s a very beautiful union of styles. Coupled with Hurwitz’s soundtrack, whole-hearted personal performances, conservatively choreographed dance routines, a touching narrative and a generous helping of humour, it’s one hell of an irresistible blend.

It’s a story about staying true to one’s dreams in a cynical world, that’s both witty and nostalgic, unashamedly romantic, and with a closing musical montage which I will not describe for fear of spoiling one of the most lip-wobblingly poignant finales committed to film since the enduringly beautiful, Cinema Paradiso.

Described as the musical for those that dislike musicals – and I can vouch for that – La La Land will put a spring in your step; the wonderfully life-affirming event that it undoubtedly is.




There’s a very fine line that we tread in life that divides two or more eventualities. Call it luck, call it fate, call it what you will, but we’re all only ever that fine line’s width away from a potentially life-changing event.

And so it proves to be in Garth Davis’s Lion. A profoundly moving film, based upon Luke Davies’s novel recounting the remarkable and heart-breaking true story of Saroo, a five-year old Indian boy from small town India.

Born into severe poverty, a young Saroo (an utterly endearing performance from Sunny Pawar), lives in a small hut with his mother, sister, and brother Guddu, with whom he hustles for any small scraps of opportunity that might aid his mother and help to supplement her meagre earnings as a manual labourer.

Times are indeed hard, but they are a close loving unit, and there is a strong bond between Saroo and his older brother who invariably takes him under his wing.

Saroo’s stubborn unwillingness to allow Guddu to head off in search of work one evening without him in tow, eventually sees the pair of them make the short train journey to a neighbouring town where Guddu leaves a tired Saroo to sleep on the platform bench whilst he goes off in search of work opportunities. Guddu promises to return as soon as possible, and is insistent that Saroo should not move from where he’s lying until he does.

When Guddu doesn’t return, Saroo decides to take shelter for the night in an empty train carriage, only to awaken some hours later aboard the same, now moving train, en route to Calcutta; a two day journey, far from his family, and into the unknown.

On arrival, scared, alone, confused and disorientated, Saroo remains oblivious to the fact that his life has just changed, inexorably, forever.

It’s hard to convey just how truly emotionally engaging the opening acts of Lion really are, and they must have presented the director with something of a dilemma as to how such engagement levels could be sustained, considering the film’s second section largely abandons the original cast members and setting, and introduces a now grown-up Saroo (Dev Patel), living an adopted life, far-removed from his roots.

Twenty-something Saroo, now living in Australia, is portrayed as a mature, stable young man, who has secured a place at university where he has found an intelligent and attractive girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara).

Saroo is the antithesis of his troubled brother, Mantosh (Divian Ladwa) – also adopted – and very much the pride and joy of his caring adoptive parents, John and Sue Brierley, (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman).

Little is made of the intervening years between the point of Saroo’s adoption and his departure for university. He is clearly a well-adjusted young man, seemingly at ease with his adopted lot in life and with who he’s become, but there is a deeply affecting scene in Garth Davis’s film in which Saroo is suddenly confronted by his past. A visual trigger throws him into something of a frozen trance-like state. Staring off into the middle distance, his mind is jolted back in time to a poignant moment from his youth that he’d shared with his brother. It’s a catalytic event, and one that has such a profound effect upon him that it re-awakens something deeply personal and deep-seated within him.


Whether Saroo’s  re-awakening happened in such a manner, or whether this moment is merely a convenient device with which to emphasise a point, is immaterial. Beyond doubt however is the fact that this rediscovered yearning for a forgotten family and past – something that he’d kept so well buried and confined to history for so long – was no fleeting infatuation. It came to overwhelm his every waking hour, jeopardising the life that he’d so ably built for himself, at least that is, until the adopted boy within him could finally find some kind of closure.

Lion is a devastatingly emotional piece. An extraordinarily tender and touching portrait of the plight of both a young boy, and a young man, and it’s testament to Garth Davis’ directorial skills that he somehow manages to successfully join the two chapters and prolong the film’s achingly wistful air and intensity, throughout. From abandoned Hindi-speaking youngster, desperately navigating the considerable perils of a homeless existence on the unforgiving streets of Bengali-speaking Calcutta – to the best of a five year old child’s ability, at least – to a fully-grown man; the adopted son of loving parents, who would do anything for him, yet can never compensate for a tragic past that seems destined to forever eat away at Saroo.

Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel are both magnificent portraying both younger and older Saroo, whilst Nicole Kidman is completely convincing portraying his sweet, caring and compassionate mother, beautifully. Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran’s accompanying score is both rich and powerful, yet understated enough so as not to over-kill the film’s highly emotive, yet subtle direction.

Not even the rather cynical, suspiciously omnipresent product-placement for the wonders of Google Earth can detract from what is in its very essence, a beautiful, unashamed tearjerker that, unless you are very much dead inside, will pull relentlessly at your heart strings.