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Slumdog Millionaire /

Rated: R

Starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan, Madhur Mittal, Freida Pinto
Directed by: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
Produced by: Christian Colson
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

First seen at AFI Fest 2008:

     On its face, Slumdog Millionaire, this year’s little-movie-that-could and current Best Picture frontrunner, could be mistaken for a hollow piece of filmmaking. While no prominent critic has suggested this, it’s important to realize that the movie is essentially made up of imagery-dense, music-video-esque sequences; old-fashioned Dickensian themes; and  simple flashback storytelling. Juxtaposed with how complex the film actually comes across, this fact stands as an awe-inducing testament to just what a massive accomplishment Slumdog Millionaire is. 

     In the first scenes, we meet teenage Jamal (Dev Patel*) as he is tortured by Indian police. Jamal has just triumphed in a winning-streak on his country’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”, performing so strongly for an uneducated once-slum-orphan that the show’s producers and the cops think he cheated. He has done no such thing however and, as an onscreen set of “Millionaire”-style multiple-choice answers to the film’s narrative suggest in its opening, Jamal’s performance may be an object of fate. As the police play back a tape of the show and interrogate Jamal, the viewer witnesses how jamal learned each answer in his life’s journey from the poorest neighborhood in Mumbai to the set of a popular television show. Jamal’s mother’s (Sanchita Couhdary) death at the hands of Islamic extremism, his brother’s transformation (Madhur Mittal*) from nurturer to thug following a brutal kidnapping, and his own enduring love for childhood-crush Latika (Freida Pinto*) are all intertwined in an emotionally-stirring narrative that illustrates the recent history of a headline-making country in evocative and unflinching detail. And the movie does it all within the aforementioned simple structure.

      While I normally reject auteur theory because film is the ultimate collaborative medium, it would be hard to deny that director Danny Boyle, always the engineer of cinema, is responsible for the bulk of Slumdog Millionaire’s success. He is the hands-on anchor of every vital element of the film, from the poignant performances of his cast of mostly non-actors to the unbelievable camerawork done on three cutting-edge units by DP Anthony Dod Mantle to editor Chris Dickens’ adrenaline-pumping knack for pacing. Boyle is the reason why the film is so brilliantly innovative, making its straightforward structure thoughtful and welcome rather than conventional and shrug-inducing.

     Reading over the last three paragraphs, I realize I’m skirting around the true brilliance of the film, which is not exactly technical despite its competence in all areas artistic. Rather, Slumdog Millionaire’s genius rests in the way moves, how it allows the viewer to experience the essence of India within the parameters of a moving story and technical flourishes I’ve too-coldly discussed. It’s hard to really describe just what a wonder the picture is in the moment: like when M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” unexpectedly comes on at full-blast in a jaw-dropping train-ride-sequence, or when the Taj Mahal is intimately photographed in verite documentary style,  or when Latika’s face is shown as an eight-frame-per-second motif to illustrate it as a figment of Jamal’s hopeful mind. When these passages infuse to show the hope and suffering of a nation through the universal lens of traditional underdog-based popular-entertainment—you tell me whether said entertainment is the show in the movie, the movie itself, or both—Slumdog Millionaire becomes magical. It’s an experience that holds the essence of realism and transcends reality in the process.

    Oh, and did I mention there’s an end-credit dance sequence that far surpasses those of the Bombastic Bollywood hits that inspired it in terms of energy, choreography, and pure fun? Chalk that onto the list of traits to gush about in what is one of the best films of the year.

*I have credited the oldest actor for each character. They are portrayed by 2-3 different actors for different ages.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 12.5.2008

Screened on: 11.7.2008 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA and 11.24.2008 at Laemmle's Playhouse in Pasadena, CA.


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