It’s been a good fortnight for people involved with The Last Airbender. First M Night Shymalan releases Split, astounding those who assumed he would never direct again, then Dev Patel stars in the Oscar-nominated Lion, showing a remarkable ability to bring his career back from the precipice Shyamalan drove it towards. Maybe there are people in Hollywood who never saw The Last Airbender.
Patel stars as Saroo, a child from rural India who accidentally boards which travels thousands of miles from his family. After being adopted and raised in Australia he is haunted by his past and goes on a journey of self-discovery to find his real family. Not to be confused with Reincarnated, a film about confused rapper Snoop Lion going on a journey of self-promotion to Jamaica .
While Patel dazzles in the lead role, it’s Sunny Pawar who is the breakout star of the film. He gets almost as much screen time as Patel as the infant Saroo, and carries the weight of the film’s heart-breaking first act on his tiny shoulders. Nicole Kidman and David Wenham are also excellent as his adoptive parents, in rare roles that allow them to use their native Australian accents.
The cinematography captures the beauty of India without skirting over the poverty, a balance which is struck throughout the film. The scenes in Australia are, overall, less satisfying than those in the subcontinent, but even here there are rousing moments, mainly those shared by Patel and Kidman.
More grounded than Patel’s previous Slumdog Millionaire, it trades the fantastical for the factual. The film’s biggest flaws are that it’s not wholly unpredictable, and a plot thread about Saroo’s emotionally troubled adoptive brother Mantosh (played first by Keshav Jadhav then Divian Ladwa) which is left somewhat under-developed, and ends up feeling a little like a missed opportunity.
But with its moving performances and stirring emotions, there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema. Except Dan.