Oscar Movie Month: "Slumdog Millionaire" Review

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

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Rating: R
Length: 120 minutes
Release Date: August 30, 2008
Directed by: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
Genre: Drama / Romance / Thriller

Few movies dive into the heart of life, love and poverty while captivating viewers and leaving them truly inspired, but "Slumdog Millionaire" accomplishes this and much more. When a teenager from the streets finds himself one correct question away from winning the grand prize of a well-known game show, he is taken away and interrogated on the basis of cheating. He then must tell his life story to explain how he knows the answers to the show's nearly impossible questions. With top-notch acting, fast-paced storytelling and plenty of original ideas, the 2008 film directed by Danny Boyle takes cinema to a whole new level.

The beginning of the film shows Jamal Malik, a Mumbai teenager who serves tea at a call center, as he is one question away from winning the grand prize of 20 million rupees on India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" When the show cuts to a break, police believe he must be cheating and arrest him, beginning a brutal interrogation. Unable to understand how a boy from the slums could achieve what doctors and lawyers could not, the police ask Jamal where he got the answers. He provides an explanation for every question he had answered correctly that stems from his own life experiences.

Amid his explanations, audiences view Jamal's life from his childhood in the slums of Mumbai to his final moments on the show. Audiences are also introduced to Salim, Jamal's unkind but loyal older brother who helps Jamal stay alive in their youth but abandons him as a teenager. When Jamal and Salim are convinced by a gangster to work as beggars, Jamal meets a girl named Latika who becomes his close friend. Seeing through the gangster's facade, Salim convinces his brother to escape with him. Latika is unable to join the brothers in their escape, but Jamal makes it his quest to find her again. Jamal has several encounters with Latika as he struggles to survive while dealing with his criminal brother, but the two are always separated again. In a climatic scene, Jamal explains to his interrogators why he is truly a contestant on the show.

The plot of "Slumdog Millionaire" is captivating, but it is the great acting that really brings the story together. Dev Patel, who plays Jamal as an older teenager, gives the perfect performance as a troubled young man with tumults of inner emotion. Freida Pinto captures audiences with a heartfelt performance as the older version of Latika. The young actors who play Jamal, Salim and Latika as children give surprisingly good performances through a number of humorous scenes and troubling situations. Their Hindi dialog creates an honest feel, although the subtitles are sometimes distracting.

Director Danny Boyle brings a heart-pounding, energetic style to "Slumdog Millionaire" that keeps viewers entranced at every moment. This same style can be seen in Boyle's other films, such as "28 Days Later" and "Trainspotting." Every scene of the film feels raw, honest and untouched, and a mixture of Hindi and English audio gives an even greater sense of realism to the movie. The thematic elements of "Slumdog Millionaire," which include greed, love, perseverance and destiny, are expertly weaved throughout the film with just the right amount of subtlety to avoid becoming preachy. The film also touches on the immense prejudice against impoverished areas and the individuals born there.

The musical score of the film is both appealing and appropriate for the atmosphere of the film. A.R. Rahman's soundtrack includes traditional Indian music with elements of American hip hop and European house music to create a fast-paced, soulful blend that is completely original. The edgy song "Jai Ho," which serves as the theme song for the film, includes a heart-pounding mixture of traditional and popular musical sounds. M.I.A. also contributes some beautiful songs to the soundtrack with heartfelt pieces like "O...Saya."

The film has very few shortcomings concerning its cinematography, acting and plot. "Slumdog Millionaire" does occasionally portray poverty with an overly lighthearted approach, and it follows a few too many third-world stereotypes. However, these shortcomings are quickly overshadowed by great storytelling and a truly original plotline.

Dealing with poverty and love in a way that is both captivating and completely unapologetic, "Slumdog Millionaire" successfully ventures where few films have gone before. By the end of the film, viewers cannot help but feel a sense of awe, inspiration and encouragement from Jamal's many trials and victories. Audiences from every background can enjoy this cinematic achievement, which is sure to be treasured as a modern classic.

Rating: 4 out of 5