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