Dev Patel (left) as Jamal and Anil Tapoor as Prem, the "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" host, in "Slumdog Millionaire", Danny Boyle's -- and the year's -- best film.  (Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

THE POPCORN REEL FILM REVIEW/"Slumdog Millionaire"

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire When You've Mastered Jeopardy At Every Turn?

By Omar P.L. Moore/November 29, 2008

"Slumdog Millionaire" is the most visually alive film of 2008.  It is also the best -- it gives us hope, fear, triumph, love, sadness and joy -- but most importantly it entertains.  This rags-to-riches tale of a poor-hard-luck boy in Mumbai, India making a chance appearance on the country's edition of the world famous quiz-show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" avoids the cliches that could have sabotaged Danny's Boyle's best film to date.

That said, "Slumdog Millionaire" owes something to "Salaam Bombay!", Mira Nair's 1988 tale of young children's adventures on the streets of poverty-stricken Calcutta.  The film's early energy is infectious and exciting.  Simon Beaufoy, who penned "The Full Monty", also writes the script for Mr. Boyle's film, adapting it from the book "Q&A", by Vikas Swarup.  Films about life in the slums are often apt to romanticize the degradation of the hamlets and villages they depict (ala "City Of God" to name a recent film) but wisely Mr. Boyle's film doesn't fall into the trap.

Dev Patel, a London-born actor in his feature film debut plays Jamal Malik, an 18-year-old orphan boy who has lived the school of hard knocks to graduate to making a chance appearance with an opportunity to make money answering questions on the "Millionaire?" quiz show.  After correctly answering the penultimate question to win 10 million rupees, Jamal is kidnapped and interrogated by a police investigator (Irrfan Khan of Ms. Nair's film "The Namesake" and "A Mighty Heart"), who believes he is cheating on the show.  Meanwhile, the only semblance of family in Jamal's life has been Jamal's older brother Samil (Madhur Mittal), a thorn in his side from childhood.  In an inverse way, they are a Cain and Abel-like outfit and their contrasting fates in the film are juxtaposed in an intriguing fashion. 

Most central to the film however is Latika (played by debut actress Freida Pinto), the young girl Jamal has admired and endured plenty of ups and downs with.  Miss Pinto is the film's revelation -- brave, alluring and convincing in a gritty role.  Mr. Mittal gives Samil a manic disposition that supplies a lot of tension.  Mr. Patel has all the self-assurance of a veteran performer, and his Jamal even has the temerity to spar with Prem, the "Millionaire" quiz show's patronizing host and producer (played by Anil Kapoor, a premiere Bollywood actor.)  But there's so much more going on beneath the surface of this colorful film, which has a texture that is rich and authentic as rendered by Anthony Dod Mantle's stunning cinematography.  The film even has time to celebrate itself in style at the end, adding a flavor its native country will recognize. 

In the fluid direction of his latest film Mr. Boyle displays a depth of vision, vitality and purpose not seen in his previous films, though he peppers "Slumdog" with some of the frenzied unbroken shots seen in prior films like "28 Days Later" and "Sunshine".  While each of his films are different, Mr. Boyle knows how to direct stories about young children and young adults, or the evolution of one group into the other.  With "Millions" he painted a refreshingly clear-eyed portrait of imagination and wonderment and here he does the same.  He captured the recklessness and randomness of a young man in both "Trainspotting" and "The Beach", and here he captures the topsy-turvy world of an orphan.  In "Shallow Grave" he powerfully brought alive a world of previously innocent youngsters suddenly aware, if not fully culpable, of murderous circumstances.  Here, Mr. Boyle plunges an innocent young boy headlong into growing up and evolving the hard way, using guile and experience to stay alive.  It is stunning that after last year's astonishingly poor "Sunshine" that the director could come back with such a profoundly masterful movie, but he manages to. 

At times moving, "Slumdog Millionaire" embraces the sweet and the sour, like the spices and sensations of India itself.  Mr. Boyle doesn't do this all on his own however, he gets massive help from co-director Loveleen Tandan, who directs many of the sequences in India, providing indisputable realism to the entire film.  Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the world's most populous city at 19 million people, has 19 million stories, including most sadly the fatal mass terrorist attacks that occurred earlier this week, and for their wonderful, breathtaking scope of a film, Ms. Tandan and Mr. Boyle make the most of the vast landscape.

Ever engaging, never short of surprises, "Slumdog Millionaire" is an engrossing gem of a film from start to finish.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language.  The film is in English and Hindi languages and in English subtitles.  The film's running time is one hour and 56 minutes.  The film has been playing in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and expanded its release on Thanksgiving Day to additional American cities. 

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  PopcornReel.com.  2008.  All Rights Reserved.

 


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