'Slumdog Millionaire' ***** Review 030109

  the novel 'Q&A',(retitled to match the film:)
The Soundtrack:

The Work = *****
'Slumdog Millionaire' is something of a roller coaster ride, love story, packaged around a young man from the slums of India rising to fame during an appearance on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'. The story is simple, straightforward, and as old as they come. A boy loves a girl and he would do anything to get her back... even go on a game show. The way in which the story is told on screen is exceptional and makes 'Slumdog Millionaire' a moving, memorable, film that is well worth seeing. This film is highly, highly, I say, highly recommended.

In time, I could see the magic of 'Slumdog Millionaire' diminishing some because of the simple story. On the other hand that could be just the thing that will give the film a certain charm for years to come. Jamal (played as an adult by Dev Patel) has had a hard life: living on his own while he was still just a very young boy. His only close companions are his older, tougher, brother Salim (played as an adult by Madhur Mittal) and his friend Latika (played as an adult by Freida Pinto.) Perhaps, from the first moment Jamal met Latika he has loved her. He will do anything to win her heart and when he has nothing he will still try because the one thing Jamal knows is he loves Latika.

At this point I have to say that my review is not doing the film justice. Danny Boyle and crew have crafted an exciting and at times downright riveting film which employs many stylistic flourishes that could have been overbearing. Director Boyle, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, and Editor Chris Dickens, made every stylistic choice work for the story instead of against it. Some of the best moments in the film are thanks in part to the varied film devices used in telling the story. (At times the film resembles 'City of God', the dark drama about youth gangs in Brazil.)

Jamal’s quest for Latika is told in a zigzagging time line that is straight out of a Film Noir mystery. In place of Fred MacMurray dictating into a tape recorder in ‘Double Indemnity’ we get Jamal’s appearance on the game show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’. Switching between Jamal as a young boy, as a teenager, as a young adult and then finally as a contestant we can piece together how he ended up where he is. Jamal often has the luck of many Film Noir leads and even his appearance on the show is met with hostility. Prem Kumar (played with glee by Anil Kapoor) doesn’t like that the audience seems to love Jamal. He is getting the right answers and taking too much attention away from Kumar. At one point he is in the custody of police and a sergeant torturing only chastised by his superior when Jamal passes out from the pain. The Inspector (Irrfan Khan) warns the Sergeant (Saurabh Shukla) that human rights activists will be complaining if the prisoners keep passing out.

As Jamal answers questions on the show, 'Slumdog Millionaire' jumps back to different points in his life. Sometimes the events tie in to questions he is being asked on the show. Sometimes they are just key moments that led Jamal to one place or another in his life. Throughout everything, Jamal is always trying to win Latika’s affections.

This is easier said than done and Jamal, Salim, and Latika all have an extremely hard upbringing. You may want to be aware that while there is not too much on screen blood in 'Slumdog Millionaire' there are several sequences that can be hard to watch. Actually, the first half of the film is quite grueling and sort of an endurance test for the audience. Jamal’s life was difficult and the three main characters were on their own as children.

Obviously, there was no one to look out for them or give them any guidance. In 'Slumdog Millionaire', predators wait and look for youths who are on their own and will not be missed when they disappear. Finding children is not hard either as many live in a large garbage dump on the outskirts of Mumbai. (Actually, the film had gotten some flak for its portrayal of the harsh life on the streets of India.) The horrors of Jamal’s early life are cringe inducing and there is at least one scene where a child is maimed that is particularly hard to watch. I don’t want to overemphasize the violence but it is a part of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and certainly something to be aware of.

Over the course of Jamal's young life he is wronged by many he comes into contact with, even his own brother. The one exception is Latika but they are separated when still very young and as Jamal grows he searches the country for his beloved Latika. Throughout their lives, every time he gets close to her they are separated with no way to get back to one another. I will leave the specifics for you to discover but I will say that Jamal's appearance on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' is a chance for Jamal to overcome the impossible and win her back.

Jamal is soft spoken, polite and direct. The rigors of growing up on the streets have taught him not to trust authority but he was still able to find a way into the regular 9 to 5 workforce. His brother Salim is not so lucky. Salim is also, in part, responsible for Jamal evading some of the darker sides of life on the streets of India. He was older and after a fashion, downright ruthless. The fearlessness Salim has also seals his fate with a life of crime. When Salim was still a young teenager, he hurts Jamal in a way that will haunt both men for a long, long time.

I believe this is the first film for Dev Patel and Freida Pinto. That they have not been on screen before is remarkable as they are both quite good in 'Slumdog Millionaire'. It is funny that Patel is shot in such a manner that he appears rather tiny on screen and only at the end did I realize he was over 6 feet tall. Everything in 'Slumdog Millionaire' just works and even the credits are fun, stylized and really, the perfect closing to the film. Even the child actors are all great in the film (actually, I can’t think of a bad performance in it.) The music is a catchy mix of a few pop songs and a wonderful score by A.R. Rahman.

Somehow, being the chucklehead that I am, I went into this film thinking it was based on a true story. It is of course, not based on a true story but based on a novel called 'Q & A'. The novel is written by Vikas Swarup and it was adapted for the screen by Simon Beaufoy. Just from perusing the synopsis of the novel on I am guessing the novel is a very different story and probably worth checking out. Beaufoy (who is probably most well known for writing 'The Full Monty') crafted a simple story told in a complex manor. Boyle and crew seem perfectly suited to the material and it is nice to see him get a lot of recognition (probably his most familiar past film is 'Trainspotting'.)

Any criticisms I have for 'Slumdog Millionaire' are really just nitpicking. As I have said, the story is a simple and straightforward one and those looking for something else may be disappointed. There is an oddity on, that I am guessing is a mistake: Loveleen Tandan is listed as a co-director but I suspect he was a second unit director on the film. When I saw the film I mentioned to my girlfriend that I thought it was maybe a tad bit odd that Latika's desires are almost never expressed throughout much of the film. As a viewer, I never knew for much of 'Slumdog Millionaire' if she had the same aching affection for Jamal that he had for her. The tone of the story would be decidedly different if say, she didn’t have the same feelings for Jamal. I expressed this to my girlfriend, who saw the film with me, and she told me to “just be quiet.” Besides, the point is, Latika does have the same feelings for Jamal he will fight the whole world to get her back.

That is it really, one young man’s quest to reach his dream girl. In lesser talent’s hands the film could have seemed overblown and disingenuous. Instead, in the hands of Boyle, his cast, and his crew, 'Slumdog Millionaire' is a sometimes grueling ride that in the end warmed my heart. For all the horrors and struggles that Jamal and Latika face, the movie does end on a high note. Considering some of the darker moments, that is pretty impressive. I loved the characters and the film as a whole. By the time the conclusion was winding down I was all teary eyed. Yes, 'Slumdog Millionaire' is a simple film but it is told with exceptional skill. I suspect that you will either be wrapped up in the story and enjoy the film or won't care about the story and consequently be bored with the film. I love the movies and always have as long as I can remember. When a film really clicks with me there is often at least one moment that gives me a bit of a rush. 'Slumdog Millionaire' had more than one and it even managed to give me the warm fuzzies at the end. The movie just won me over and I say it is highly, highly recommended. See it if you can.


‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Links:


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