Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire
By Matthew Huntley
November 19, 2008

He's using Sarah Palin's lifeline.

Slumdog Millionaire is a rousing and beautiful masterpiece, a heartfelt story of survival and endurance, brotherhood and love. It overflows with so many ideas and possibilities you'll immediately want to start talking about it. It's been a while since a film has been so striking and indelible with its storytelling and contained characters and situations we care about so deeply. The director is Danny Boyle, who proved long ago he was a unique asset to filmmaking with Trainspotting and Millions. Even after those achievements, he has outdone himself.

It helps I went into Slumdog Millionaire almost completely unaware of what its plot. I encourage you to do the same. Do NOT research this film or read any critics' opinions that give away crucial plot points. I'll be careful what I write, but I still propose you see the film first and then come back to this review.

...Okay, you have seen the film. That, or you have enough faith in me to not spoil things for you. Slumdog Millionaire, as you may already know, tells of a poor kid from Mumbai, India who becomes a contestant on India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The young man's name is Jamal (Dev Patel), who, at the beginning of the film, is one question away from winning the jackpot: 20 million rupees. He's gotten further in the game than any other 18-year-old in history, and he has a choice to either take 10 million rupees and go home or risk losing everything by answering the final question incorrectly.

Jamal's uncommon knowledge and success rate leads the host of the show, Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), to suspect him of being a cheat. At the end of the show's first day of taping, with only one question left, Kumar hands Jamal over to the police. The chief inspector (Irfan Khan) inflicts torture on the young man to try and make him confess to cheating. His suspicion comes with good reason, I suppose. How would an uneducated "slumdog" from Mumbai be able to get so far in the game? Jamal's simple rational: "I knew the answers."

From here, the film goes back through all the different questions Kumar asked and flashes back to the moments in Jamal's life when he learned the answers. The flashbacks are than a gimmick; they're essential to the development of the characters.

Jamal grew up under the protective wing of his older brother, Salim. As little kids, they played cricket in a restricted military zone and were chased by the police around the garbage-filled streets of Mumbai. These stark and raw images, shot up close and from far away, are disheartening and unforgettable. But Boyle doesn't necessarily denounce the conditions of the ghetto neighborhoods. He does a smart thing: he photographs Mumbai tactfully and never passes judgment. He realizes there are people living here and by showing their ways of life, suggests the area possesses its own beauty. While we are prone to shudder and feel pity, we're also fascinated and respect the backbone of Mumbai's citizens.

After a tragic incident leaves Jamal and Salim orphaned, they forge their way through life as street urchins, earning money and food wherever they can, whether it's begging citizens on the streets, standing atop moving trains to steal from the cars below, or posing as tour guides at the Taj Mahal. Along the way, they meet an orphaned girl named Latika, whom Jamal falls in love with and vows to always protect, even at his young age. Throughout his life, he will lose Latika at least three times, but she's permanently implanted in his heart and mind.

I've left out a crucial and disturbing plot development when Jamal and Salim are young, but I will not reveal it here. You'll know it when you see it and I believe such acts of cruelty really occur in a place as devastating and poor as Mumbai. I have not read Vikas Swarup's novel, Q and A, on which this film is based, but I believe it contains the same hard truth as the film, that it served as inspiration.

It's important to note the hardships Jamal, Salim and Latika experience are hardly pleasant. This isn't a kiddie adventure film, but a serious coming of age story with grave implications. We must remember these kids do what they do to survive.

Jamal is at the center of it all. Through his strength of will, good faith and humility, we grow to care for him. Against all odds, he chases after anything he needs, with his own spirit and love for Latika driving him. He eventually ends up on his own after Salim and Latika make friends with Mumbai's head gangster. They come into a life of wealth but also servitude. Years later, Jamal finds them and tries to reach Latika the only way he knows how...

In regards to the storytelling, Slumdog Millionaire is brilliant. The flashback technique completely engages us while the technical aspects - photography, editing, music, special effects - aid and enhance the viewing experience to one of supreme greatness. Boyle and his director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle, go to extreme lengths to get their shots, which, coupled with Chris Dickens' flashy editing style, place us in the middle of a chaotic, modern India, and it's thrilling and absorbing.

Above all, Slumdog never stops believing in the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. The most important thing Boyle does is continually bring us back to Jamal's love for life and Latika. He builds a lot of tension in the way he suspends and gradually reveals how Jamal came to know the answers to the Millionaire questions. We're completely immersed at all times and from all sides.

Slumdog Millionaire is the kind of film that excites me about going to the movies. It's enormously entertaining and, by the end, projects a feeling of elation. Though it's not always pleasant viewing, it contains a positive and hopeful energy. If you followed my advice, you already saw the film before finishing this review. And if you're like me, you've already told your friends about it. Now stop and consider how happy and exhilarated you are. What a wonderful and glorious thing it would be if everyone saw Slumdog Millionaire.