You probably have to reach back to FIELD OF DREAMS/’89 to find prestige wannabe quite so bald-faced at hunting up familial tears . . . and landing so short. Fact-based, but stinking of Weinstein Brothers Oscar®-bait (6 noms./0 wins), the film’s all wet when it wants to be touching. Dev Patel, the adopted Indian son of Aussie parents, now grown into pleasing manhood, drops out of a career-oriented program to search for his lost past. Literally lost as he was only five when he fell asleep on a train that carried him from his home to far off Calcutta. His Dickensian adventures as a child (trying to find a way back, or simply a meal & a place to sleep) make up the best part of the film, though even here, Garth Davis, helming his first feature, hasn’t an interesting shot in him; even with all India’s teeming humanity wherever you turn. There’s also something odd about the structural choices made in playing the storyline (linear thru-line or bouncy time jumps?), as if the order was worked out post-production with the writer & director frozen out. Nicole Kidman gives a striking perf as the adoptive mother interested in ‘broken’ children, but Rooney Mara & Patel never connect as romantic couple. (An embarrassing Hop/Skip/Jump meet-cute goes nowhere.) Even little Sunny Pawar can only hit the adorably lost button so many times. The sole emotional charge comes with an end title about a brother’s fate. Some payoff.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Also released in 2016, though made the year before, Patel does better (and shows a lot more chemistry) with Jeremy Irons in the underappreciated MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY. OR: For big city confusion made clear, discover India’s amazing lunchbox delivery system, only touched on here, in DABBA/THE LUNCHBOX/’13. (see below).