Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Archive: 'Slumdog Millionaire'

Movie Review
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Jamal Malik is sitting one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" The question is how he got there. Jamal is a 20-year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai. Everyone, especially the host (Anil Kapoor), is skeptical about how a slumdog could possibly know the answers to these questions that learned professionals can barely answer. The first scene of "Slumdog Millionaire" shows Jamal being tortured by a police inspector (Irfan Khan) who wants him to confess to cheating, and from there, we're launched through an extraordinary and wonderfully elliptical tale that shocks, amuses, dazzles, and ultimately transports viewers to an impossibly life-affirming world. Sure, it's far-fetched, but it's also the reason we go to the movies in the first place.

Director Danny Boyle ("28 Days Later," "Trainspotting") presents a highly stylized adventure through a vividly realized Mumbai. Even the slums are colorful and bright as the story opens with a young Jamal and his brother Salim losing their mother to a religious ambush. They run away together eventually meeting up with a girl named Latika. After escaping a corrupt orphanage, the brothers hop a train and pose as tour guides at the Taj Mahal. Latika gets lost along the way but later turns up as an adult being sold over to a nasty mob boss. Each section of their lives is played by various sets of actors at different ages, and they're all excellent, especially Dev Patel as the adult Jamal and Freida Pinto as the adult Latika. As much as it jumps back and forth through time, the narrative dives headlong with great energy towards its exhilarating conclusion. And even though the story could be labeled as a straightforward rags-to-riches tale, Simon Beaufoy's screenplay adapted from the novel "Q and A" by Vikas Swarup structures the movie into something truly special.

Traveling through Jamal's life, revealed clues illustrate how exactly he knows the answer to all the questions. It seems his life is fueled by chance, and therefore, so is the film itself. It's sometimes preposterous, yes, but never not amazingly coincidental and magical. While there are some instances of brutality, the movie is essentially a whimsical fairy tale. It contains undertones of social awareness that give it universal appeal, even if Boyle attempts to unnecessarily Westernize some aspects. Don't be turned away by the idea of subtitles, either, because it's mostly in English anyway.

And at the center of it all is a stirring and pure romance that points to the possibility of true destiny. This love is what charges Jamal's long journey and is the reason why he's sitting in the hot seat with all eyes on him. "Slumdog Millionaire" is a surefire crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word, and it'll certainly get people talking. The Oscars may even be anxious enough to embrace such an uplifting and winning tale after last year's much bleaker selections. The movie really is, if nothing more, just brilliant entertainment. And in the honor of this film feeling like a fusion of Hollywood and Bollywood, there's even a dance number in the closing credits.

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