>> Slumdog Millionaire (8.5/10)

Slumdog MillionaireThe new Danny Boyle film Slumdog Millionaire opens with torture and ends with dancing, and the journey that takes place between these bookends is one of the best times I’ve had at the movies all year long.  Boyle (28 Days Later, Millions, Trainspotting) is gutsy, a filmmaker who seems to enjoy taking big artistic risks on the road to creating broadly appealing movies.  He has mastered the artsy crowd-pleaser, films infused with individuality and the independent spirit, while telling stories that seem to find an audience beyond the art-house theatre crowd.  Slumdog Millionaire is no different.

Despite its exotic Indian locale, the immediate Western connection to Slumdog Millionaire comes in the form of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the trivia game show that once bogged down our airwaves five nights a week at the peak of its national craze.  As the film opens, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is being roughly interrogated by Mumbai police for getting so far along on India’s version of the game show that he stands to take home the top prize, despite not just a lack of formal education, but that the fact that he is quite literally a street kid, a slumdog.  Providence has seen to it that each one of the questions that Jamal has been asked on the TV show are somehow intrinsically related to his own life story.  He relates this harrowing biography to the police, and to us, the audience, a story that is at times a tale of coming-of-age horror, a bitter crime drama involving his morally questionable brother Salim, and a grand love story between himself and his childhood friend Latika.

The story is suspenseful and emotionally moving, and the minute I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it worked exactly the way Danny Boyle wanted it work was when he successfully displays a brief montage at the end of the film of memorable moments from within the very film we just saw.  That’s really bold, but it worked.  As I revisited those little moments, moments that I had witnessed not even two hours before, I grinned like they were scenes from one of my favorite movies.  Boyle got me.  He was so confident that people would love this movie, he knew a second or two from the “good parts” edited together would deliver the cinematic equivalent of a joyous hug.  I may have admired this one achievement in Slumdog Millionaire more than any other.

There’s a lot to admire in this energetic film.  Beyond the familiar suspense of the game show itself, there’s the dangerous and beautiful locale, fairly alien to my American eyes, where hideous mountains of garbage take on a strange otherworldly quality.  There’s a killer musical selection, including an early stand-out chase sequence in a shanty town set so perfectly to the jangly beat of an M.I.A song, that I don’t think either the scene or the song can exist without the other.  Dev Patel’s performance is earnest and real, and the child actors playing young Jamal, Salim, and Latika are simply amazing.  Frieda Pinto as the modern day Latika is profoundly beautiful.  I found it difficult to keep myself from running up to the movie screen and attempting a prolonged make-out session.

Before the movie started, I overheard a conversation between two strangers sitting to my right, jokingly worried they were about to see something pretentious and dry because of the reputation of the art-house venue where the screening was taking place.  Slumdog Millionaire may look different than what’s usually playing at the megaplex (there’s not a white person in sight for one thing, and I didn’t miss ’em), but the journey is far more rewarding than the latest Hollywood blockbuster, and, honestly, just as widely appealing.  It’s tragic, exciting, romantic, funny, and uplifting, running the gamut of human emotion while telling an unpredictable story that never fails to entertain and move me.  If you can tell me a better reason to watch movies, I’d like to hear it.

8.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

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1 Comment

  1. wonderful story and great acting combine to make this film a worthy success. but more than anything its the directing of this film that makes it so special. the amazing backdrops and suittable music blend so well that its hard to disagree about what all the fuss was about on its release. slightly predictable but none the less a must see film. i give it 8.5/10.


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