Slumdog Millionaire is the story of an 18-year-old Mumbai slum kid who manages to get on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (©2008 Fox Searchlight)
I like directors like Danny Boyle. Though he has made some terrible films, like the bloated sci-fi dirge Sunshine, or the unwatchable A Life Less Ordinary, he’s a bold auteur who’s not afraid to fall on his face and try new things. To date, he’s made the fantastic and seemingly timeless drug odyssey Trainspotting, and several diverting films (Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later). Now comes Slumdog Millionaire, a kinetic kaleidoscope of a film. Breathlessly entertaining and unapologetically poppy, Slumdog Millionaire offers a remarkably panoramic portrait of modern India, how the slums and abject poverty flow through to crime (both petty and unspeakable) to the economic boom of India’s megalopolises and back again. Another cool thing about this amazing movie is that it’s all wrapped in the fuzzy meta-narrative of a spot-on rags-to-riches Bollywood melodrama.
The film uses a shameless gimmick that works wonders. Tea-server and slumdog (slum-kid) Jamal Malik (charming newcomer Dev Patel) manages to get on the Indian version of Who Wants to be A Millionaire? and starts on an unstoppable run of right answers, much to the amusing derision of the show’s snarky host. Jamal is able to answer each question by specific (and often traumatic) experiences from his own life. Many reviews have elaborated on this, but it’s best to go in not knowing too much about the plot. Suffice it to say, terrible things happen to kind and noble Jamal and his wilder, mischievous brother Salim and the young orphan Latika, who will become the love and obsession of Jamal’s life.
Like the great City of God, Slumdog Millionaire has the daring vision to mash joy, devastating brutality, humor, and an oversaturated 21st-century hyper-speed to its chronicles of India’s other half. This is always a tricky move, especially for a Western filmmaker: You risk glamorizing poverty as well as a more general post-colonial condescension. But Boyle plays it near perfect, balancing his Technicolor fairy-tale with a lived-in grittiness that feels on the fly, chaotic, and overwhelming—just like India.
Slumdog Millionaire may be the first truly great film of the year. This is a movie I imagine most everyone liking. This is a movie that’s going to bring the real India of the 21st century to the U.S. This movie’s going to be huge. A
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