Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

“Slumdog Millionaire” is one of the best films of the year, one that is sure to grab many Oscar nominations, and deservedly so.

I knew next to nothing about it going in, which may have helped. Beautifully directed by Danny Boyle (“28 Days Later”) it’s one of the best looking films of the year, as well as one of the most emotionally engaging.

In a nutshell, “Slumdog Millionaire” relates the story of Jamal (Dev Patel), a young man who is winning a large amount of money on India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. Despite having no education and growing up in poverty, he knows all the answers. The host is suspicious and has the police kidnap and torture Jamal to find out how he is cheating.

During the show’s taping, and his interrogation, we get flashbacks to his childhood spent in extreme poverty and minor criminal activity, like pick pocketing and participating in con games. Orphaned due to rioting, Jamal and his brother Salim eke out an existence on the streets of Mumbai, where they are taken by a Fagin-like mentor. The film follows the brothers through their lives.

I’m making the film sound more grim than it is, and while there are horrifying sequences of abuse and torture, there’s also comedy, love, and heartbreak – a lot like life. Many incidents are shown as the story moves back and forth in time, but Boyle is such a good director and the three sets of actors he has portraying the three leads at different points of their lives are so strong that I had no trouble following it.

There’s also a very touching love story that spans several decades, as Jamal becomes friends with a young orphan girl named Latika. They lose touch but he never stops thinking about her, or looking for her. Latkia grows up and becomes the object of desire of many men. She is played by an actress named Freida Pinto and she is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen in a movie. I think we’ll be seeing more of her, not just for her dazzling smile, but for her warm and engaging presence

There’s other visual attractiveness on display besides Ms. Pinto. The cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle is breathtaking; one practically inhales the sights of India. He is sure to get an Oscar nomination, and likely the statue itself, as will Editor Chris Dickens, who juggles the three different time strands with relative ease. The score by A.R. Rahman is also one of the year’s best.

And for a most satisfying coda, we get a Bollywood-style musical number with the cast during the end credits.

Despite my great enthusiasm for the film, I’m only giving it three and half stars out of four. There’s so much to take in and absorb, that I’m not sure I could properly appreciate it on one viewing. I have little doubt that a second viewing would easily boost it to a four star rating.

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