Slumdog Millionaire – Review

Energetic and dripping with life, Slumdog has destiny on its side.

Directors: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
Notable Stars: Dev Patel, Irrfan Khan, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, and Freida Pinto

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: I love this film. In the heat of award season – those prestige pictures with recognizable names like DiCaprio, Pitt, and Eastwood – Slumdog Millionaire is able to eclipse all those that have come before, and brings with it an uplifting tale about love and never giving up.

Danny Boyle is a filmmaker that doesn’t let his direction dictate the film. Visual as he is, Boyle always wants to tell a good story. From smack addicts (Trainspotting) to zombies (28 Days Later), to family films (Millions) and space odysseys (Sunshine), Boyle hops from genre to genre and exceeds in all of them. Like Christopher Nolan and David Fincher, he’s a director that makes interesting films. His latest doesn’t sound as appetizing, especially with “Slumdog” in the title, but believe me, I dare you to find another feature this year that can match the saccharine levels of this film’s final moments.

The plot centers on Jamal Malik, a kid from the slums of Mumbai, who becomes a contestant on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Illiterate, he proves that he’s way smarter than a fifth grader and answers each question when asked. But it’s peculiar, the way this slumdog made it on such a program in the first place. Don’t go looking for a clear explanation; just enjoy it as a feast for the senses, a sweet movie that touches you visually and emotionally.

Before Jamal can get to the final question, he’s accused of cheating and is subsequently tortured. (I bet Jeopardy‘s Ken Jennings never had the waterboard treatment when he was on his torrid 74-show winning streak.) To make the cops understand, Jamal explains how he knew the answers. With each question we flashback to events of his past.

The flashbacks allow Boyle to explode each scene with color, even in situations where the story is at its most bleak. Brutal and impoverished, India is still a photogenic marvel. Boyle, along with co-director Loveleen Tandan, captures the slums at their worst. We learn of Jamal’s history and two other characters, and how his life experiences play a role in his ability to answer each question. Now eighteen, Jamal is looking for his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal), a revolver-toting henchman for a gangster, and Latika (Freida Pinto), the Juliet to his Romeo.

It’s a bit coincidental in how each question correlates chronologically to the events of Jamal’s life. But you become so engrossed by each flashback, seeing how Jamal went from the slums to having his face plastered on millions of televisions screens across India, that you tend to overlook the gimmick.

Shot in similar fashion to 28 Days Later, digital cameras with their swift zooms and whoosh pans take in everything the country of India has to offer. The pain that ripples through the slums when violence is forced. The goodness of Jamal even when he struggles. Each question poised before him pulls us further in to wanting to know more about Jamal, and hope that his love can be fulfilled.

It’s a storybook romance that won’t leave you feeling cheated.


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