Directed by Danny Boyle & Loveleen Tandan
Starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Irrfan Khan
Release Date: November 12, 2008 (limited)
Poor Indian teenager Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is just one question away from winning the grand prize on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. On the eve of show’s taping, a police inspector takes Jamal in on suspicion of cheating. Through a series of flashbacks, the inspector and moviegoers are treated to Jamal’s life story, from growing up in the slums of Mumbai, India, with his brother Salim to meeting and then losing his soulmate Latika (Freida Pinto). As his story unfolds, moviegoers find out why an uneducated 18-year-old with no interest in becoming rich ends up on Millionaire and just how does he know the answers for all those questions.
Written by Simon Beaufroy (The Full Monty) and based on the book Q and A by Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire is a prime example of a movie with just about everything going for it. A love story with an Oliver Twist sensibility, the movie is sweet and sentimental and not afraid to show it. Even cheesy lines cannot hold this flick down. When asked by his soulmate Latika what they would live on if they would run away, Jamal responds with confidence “Love.” Yes, it is terribly naive (or perhaps we are too jaded?) for anyone to believe such a thing but Jamal makes you believe it. When he delivers the line, it is not the fact that you believe what he says that makes root for him, but the fact that he believes it so strongly that you can’t help but root for him.
Dev Patel plays Jamal effortlessly and seems very comfortable in his skin, a necessary tool when trying to bring across a character who believes in fate so strongly. It is hard for any great actor to pull off such a role without looking overtly silly but Patel pulls it off with style. He also has great on screen chemistry with his soulmate Latika, played by model turned actress Frieda Pinto with ease. Patel and Pinto have maybe a handful of scenes together on screen but boy do they make it count. From every longing look to lingering touch, you really get the sense that perhaps their love is something special.
Patel and Pinto’s acting chops are only the tip of the iceberg. Like a well-oiled championship sports team, every actor, from the Inspector to Jamal’s brother Salim, excels in their singular role and contributes to the movie overall. Special kudos goes out to Anil Kapoor, who plays Prem Kumar, the fictional host of the Millionaire show. Kapoor plays Kumar with just enough charisma and swarminess to make him the TV host you love to hate (Fun factoid alert: The real host of India’s Millionaire makes a cameo in the film as the answer to the first question Jamal answers on the show).
Now fellas, I know what you are thinking. “But Jack, what if I do not want to see a sappy, love story?” Well, you are in luck, my friend because Slumdog is not your typical love story. There is violence, chase scenes, riots, and even gunfire. I mean, how many love stories you know start with a torture scene that would even make Jack Bauer beam with pride?
Under the direction of Danny Boyle, who made both 28 days Later and Trainspotting, the movie is a kinetic, fly by the seat of your pants ride. The opening chase scene through the streets of impoverish Mumbai is amazing and Boyle use of an Indian/Hip Hop fusion (courtesy of rapper MIA) soundtrack really adds a nice layer to an already interesting product. Coupled that with the lush location shots by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and you got one good looking movie. My personal favorite shot is that of a skyscraper built right into the center of one of the many slums in India, despite having one of the most prosperous economies around. That one single shot truly defines India in a nutshell.
The one thing I had an issue with is the use of Jamal’s brother in the feature. It seemed as if he was more of a plot device than a character. Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, who plays Salim, does an excellent job as both the brother who loves Jamal but also screws him constantly but it seems as if his actions were a bit erratic throughout the film. Sometimes he wants to help Jamal and other times, to kill him but in any of those scenarios it is used to propel the story or the characters along. I would have liked to have the character to have been well rounded.
Slumdog Millionaire is open in limited release and hopefully will be out worldwide soon, so do yourself a favor and check it out. I defy you to watch this flick and not have it melt your cold, jaded heart.