Oscar Movie Month: "Slumdog Millionaire" Review

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Slumdog Millionaire is a 2008 award-winning British drama film directed by Danny Boyle. An adaptation of the novel "Q & A" by Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup, the movie's plot revolves around a young man named Jamal Malik. Upon appearing on the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?", Jamal surprises everyone including the show host by continually getting questions right. This leads to him being hauled away for interrogation. Looking back on his childhood in the Juhu slums of Mumbai, Jamal must recall the experiences that gave him the answers to each question.
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Oscar Movie Month: "Slumdog Millionaire" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 120 minutes
Release Date: Jan. 23, 2009
Directed by: Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan
Genre: Drama/Romance/Thriller

Few movies manage to incorporate a profound and resonating theme throughout the piece while keeping its pacing and development fresh. "Slumdog Millionaire" does this in spades, proving why it won eight out of the ten Academy Awards nominations that it received. The movie manages to juggle many different genres through the use of carefully chosen camera angles, believable dialogue, and a cast that seems perfectly suited to the portrayal of multifaceted characters. The film blends drama, romance, and excitement brilliantly, resulting in a movie that is a must-see for fans of those genres and holds something for just about every movie fan over the age of seventeen.

"Slumdog Millionaire" opens with the brutal torture of the main character, Jamal (Dev Patel), who is about to return to an Indian game show and take a shot at winning twenty million rupees. The show's host, Prem (Anil Kapoor), is convinced the young street rat must somehow be cheating on the show, as he lacks the proper education to answer the questions. Prem convinces a police inspector (Irrfan Khan) to extract a confession from the contestant by any means necessary. The story is told through flashbacks into Jamal's past. It explores his relationship with a thieving brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), and his chance at romance in the slums. What follows is an amazing trip through the memory of a young slumdog and an exploration of life in modern India's underbelly.

The movie benefits greatly from a cast that almost never misses a beat. Patel brings real life and anguish to the main character. Kapoor and Khan are relentless in their persecution of the young slumdog. Flashbacks introduce other actors of varying ages that play Jamal with equal precision. The teenage Jamal is portrayed by Tanay Hemant Chheda. Ayush Mahesh Khedekar brings life to the child version of the character. His brother is played by Madhur Mittal as an adult and Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala as a teen, both ensuring their place among the stars of the cast.

The cinematography in "Slumdog Millionaire" only occasionally leaves anything to be desired. For the most part, the scenes resonate with the central theme of survival against the odds, and intimate camera angles bring exceptional clarity to the brutal torture or whispered secrets of romance delivered in the show. The scenery ranges from claustrophobic alleys and darkened rooms to the grandeur of the Taj Mahal. Transitions are quickly paced and rarely noticeable, with only few strange choices that may temporarily jar viewers from their disbelief before engrossing them again with another solid scene. The lighting does an excellent job of representing the mood in every scene and serves as a testament to the skill of the camera crew and director.

The script combines gut-wrenching brutality with romance and intimacy, interweaving those two elements to create a very strong piece full of believable dialogue. The movie, however, struggles with believable events. The constant flashbacks to the past reveal that Jamal's experiences have uniquely led him to have specific knowledge of each question, which has culminated in his shot at the twenty million rupees. The script never covers the fact that it seems the person who wrote the questions knew Jamal's life, and that might have been the real cheating. Audiences may be left wondering about this exact question, which may detract from the film for some viewers.

The direction of the film showcases the talents of Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan brilliantly. The actors all give very believable performances, even if the script operates on the edge of believable coincidence. The cinematography is one of the movie's strongest elements, and the pacing doesn't miss a beat, from the brilliant and intense opening to the final and most-revealing scene of the film. Boyle's past work with zombie and war films serves him excellently as he delves into the darkest recesses of both modern India and the world at large. He creeps into the minds of his characters, bringing out their horror and humanity without relying on familiar tropes.

The dichotomy of love and brutality is one of the movie's key elements, but may leave some moviegoers a little squeamish. The sheer gruesomeness of some of the movie's scenes is clearly designed to leave a lasting memory that not all moviegoers will appreciate. "Slumdog Millionaire" has something to offer almost any moviegoer, but viewers under the age of seventeen may be well advised to steer clear of the adult themes and sheer brutality of the film. Fans of Boyle's previous directorial work or movies that don't shy away from placing the stark truth in the spotlight are sure to fall in love with the film.

Rating: 4 out of 5