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Slumdog Millionaire Review


RATING:
(4 STARS)

There was little doubt going into the 2009 Academy Awards what film was going to win Best Picture. Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” had captured the hearts of the critics, the guilds, and the public—and understandably. The film is the ultimate underdog story and is capable of giving joy to just about anyone. But even more than that, it’s an incredibly directed and acted story, and it features some of the best location work in years. It’s a film that can (and should) be studied, but it’s also something you can just sit back and enjoy.

The film tells the decidedly non-linear story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, as a young adult), a “slumdog,” a “chai wallah” who grew up on the streets of Mumbai, India and now works serving tea at a call center. But today, he’s one question away from winning the grand prize on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” But before he can answer the question, he is taken into police custody. How can a slumdog like him know all the answers? The film takes us through each question and the event in his life that taught him the answer. It soon becomes clear that Jamal isn’t a cheater. He’s just a young man searching for his lifelong love, Latika (Freida Pinto, as a young adult). She was taken from him many times over the course of his difficult life, including once by his own brother Salim (Madhur Mittal, as a young adult). Will being on the show reunite Jamal with Latika?

The way “Slumdog Millionaire” tells its story is original and injects great energy into the picture. It also gives editor Chris Dickens a chance to shine. The way things cut back and forth keeps the viewer engaged and on his or her toes, for while the ending is obvious, there are some surprises along the way.

The film also takes advantage of its location and really makes Mumbai an important part of the story. Boyle reportedly filmed many of the scenes the way he did because he loved the city so. He also went in and cast locals in many key roles (to the dismay of some). But the Mumbai of “Slumdog Millionaire” is breathtakingly beautiful while still being severely impoverished and chaotic.

Even the professional actors in “Slumdog Millionaire” were relative unknowns. Dev Patel had a few credits to his name, though none nearly as big as this. He makes the most of his opportunity, imbuing Jamal with the charisma and good nature the hero needs to make this story work. Jamal is incredibly likeable, almost saintly. And nothing short of a fairytale ending will satisfy our wishes for him. Freida Pinto does everything she needs to do as Latika. Her role isn’t nearly as complicated as Patel’s (which to begin with isn’t all that complicated), but she does the job.

The film also features one of the most vibrant scores in recent memory. A.R. Rahman composed the music, and it’s an interesting mix of tranquility and energy. During some of the more active scenes, electronic beats blare in the background, while the quieter moments bring a more subtle sound with them (including the standout track, “Latika’s Theme”). And in the original song department, “Jai Ho” is a great addition, ending the film with a fun dance sequence that’ll bring a smile to your face.

“Slumdog Millionaire” was the best of the films nominated for Best Picture in 2008, so I had no qualms about its big night. It was great to see Boyle get the recognition he finally deserved, and I was happy that a little film like this was granted the audience it deserved. I know the film has its detractors, but I think it’s a hell of a lot of fun, very emotional, and brilliantly executed.

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