Slumdog Millionaire Movie Review

Posted on 20. Dec, 2008 by in Film/TV

Words By Brent Simon

From Shallow Grave and Trainspotting to Millions and 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle’s filmography is littered with many different types of movies, but they’re all marked by a similar intensity and forward-leaning energy. It’s somewhat strangely appropriate, then, that for his latest film, the bristling, underclass love story Slumdog Millionaire, the British-born Boyle would head to the slums of India, where life is lived in fast-forward.
With a base population of 19 million and still growing rapidly, Mumbai is, by most estimates, set to overtake Tokyo in a decade’s time as the world’s most populous metropolis. The terrible nature of the recent terrorist siege notwithstanding, the city’s high-contrast mix of heartbreaking poverty, crime, technological advancement, and surging aspirant optimism all make for a perfectly jumbled, Dickensian backdrop for Boyle’s engaging drama about a dirt-poor orphan who stands poised on the precipice of winning 20 million rupees on an Indian game show.
Scrawny 18 year-old Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) nurses a crush on Latika (Freida Pinto), a fellow street urchin whom he’s known since a hardscrabble childhood shared with his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal). Now, with a whole nation watching, laconic Jamal is just one question away from winning the jackpot on India’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? But when the show breaks for the evening, at the behest of its preening, patronizing host (Anil Kapoor) police arrest Jamal on suspicion of cheating. Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the police inspector (Irfan Khan) the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up – of their many adventures, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of course of Latika, the girl he’s loved and yet repeatedly lost.
Slumdog Millionaire is more than passingly reminiscent of Fernando Meirelles’ Oscar-nominated City of God. Both films, within the framework of a fraternal narrative, assay crippling poverty and the doom it often portends – how it limits some choices and warps others. Yet I also found myself thinking again and again of Oliver Twist and, unlikely though it may seem, Romeo & Juliet. Boyle’s film opens in the present day, but then jumps back and forth in time, with each chapter of Jamal’s layered story revealing where he learned answers to the show’s increasingly difficult trivia questions. This approach helps give the movie a sense of fated, epic scale, no matter the relatively meager $14 million budget.
As with many of his films, including his last one, Sunshine, Boyle’s visual approach is heavy on canted angles and color saturation. Unlike that film, though, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantel’s work here is a much more natural match with the story, imploring
a deeper identification with the space, and thus the characters. Boyle’s deft artistry even extends to the film’s subtitles (roughly the first third is in Hindi), which unfold on differently color backgrounds, spread across the screen. Exotic, but never condescendingly so,
Slumdog Millionaire locates the lamplight of human desire, and proves that it burns all across the world, no matter circumstance,
ethnicity, or religion. (Fox Searchlight, R)

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