- Rated R
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All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by David Medsker
t’s not often that a movie with so much bad luck can be filled with so much hope, but “Slumdog Millionaire” is such a movie. Fate is a cold, heartless bitch to the three leads, yet they never complain or feel cheated. They simply find another way to persevere and get what they want. Only a tenth of the events in this film would actually happen to any one person, of course, but that’s sort of the point; this is a fairy tale, one where a dirt-poor Indian “slumdog” could engineer the biggest cash grab in his country’s history. And all he had to do was live his life.
The story begins with Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) in a police station. He is one question away from winning 20 million rupees on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” and his young age (he’s 18), combined with his unparalleled success on the show, lead the authorities – and the show’s host – to suspect that he’s cheating. After some interrogation (yep, he’s tortured), Jamal tells the police sergeant about his childhood: growing up in the Mumbai slums, the death of his mother during a religious riot, and how he, his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal), and Jamal’s lifelong crush Latika (Freida Pinto) were living in a dump before being taken in by Maman (Ankul Vikal), who used the children as professional beggars. Jamal and Salim escape Maman’s camp, but Latika is left behind, and Jamal never stops thinking about her. When he sees Latika much later – and discovers she’s now the prize of crime lord Javed (Mahesh Manirekar) – he learns that she’s a fan of “Millionaire,” so he auditions to be a contestant more as a means to show his love for her than the money. Jamal certainly could not have imagined what would happen next.
At the risk of giving away too much, the story’s structure is like “The Usual Suspects” in reverse, where actual events, rather than fabricated ones, come together to assemble a most unlikely puzzle. Director Danny Boyle fills the cracks with his unique sense of manic energy (along with a trademark beat-driven soundtrack), and wisely tones down the more violent moments without lessening their impact (two words: singing audition). The subtitles, though, are maddening; blended in with the background, they’re practically illegible. Fortunately, the characters primarily speak English.
Patel (suggested to Boyle by his 17-year-old daughter) is an inspired choice for the role of Jamal. Even though he spends the entire movie stealing from anyone and everyone, he seems so sweet and pure that you want to pinch his cheeks while he’s doing it. Pinto and Mittal fare well enough while they’re on screen (three people play the parts of Latika and Salim throughout the movie), and Anil Kapoor oozes sleaze as the show’s host. Is there a single movie with a game show host that isn’t sleazy? Just a thought.
In the end, though, the magic of “Slumdog” is in the story, not the actors who play it out. Its moral seems to be twofold: follow your heart and the money will follow, and sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. As both a lucky dog and hopeless romantic, “Slumdog” is a huge, if odd, affirmation that I’m living a good life, and I’ll take that any day over, say, a period piece about missing children or abusive priests.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Fox has been rather stingy with the bonus features in their recent releases, but the extras on the DVD for "Slumdog Millionaire," while basic, are very good. There are several deleted scenes, and not of the 30-second variety, but really good, long scenes, including one involving the question worth 64,000 rupees. There are two audio commentaries, one by director Danny Boyle and actor Dev Patel and another with screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and the movie's producer. There is a making-of featurette that is entertaining but was clearly transferred from another format (and rather poorly, at that), and lastly there is "Slumdog Cutdown," which is the movie edited to the length of the Academy Award-winning song "Jai Ho." Good additions to an already great movie.