SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a kinetic whirlwind of a film. I was reminded of Fernando Mierelles’ brilliant CITY OF GOD while watching it. Like CITY OF GOD, it’s frenetically paced and shot in the third world and chronicles the growth of a young boy into a young man amidst the corruption of his surroundings. This film goes for every heartstring, and is successful at hitting most of them.
We are introduced to Jamal (Dev Patel) as a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” As Jamal is asked each question, director Danny Boyle tells the story of Jamal through flashbacks that show us how he came to know each answer. The backdrop of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” is merely a device to show the struggles Jamal has faced not only to appear on the game show, but to merely survive. Boyle’s biggest success with this film is in transporting us to India, stripped of any Hollywood stylization or Bollywood camp. Jamal’s upbringing is heartbreaking as he escapes death several times in the film. The film is unflinching in showing how children and abused and mistreated in that culture.
As Jamal keeps getting the game show questions right, he is captured and tortured before he can finish. The show believes that he is cheating, since nobody could possibly know all the answers. This portion of the film seems to delve into unnecessary brutality, but I suppose they needed a reason for him to be interrogated about his past. The story shifts from Jamal’s childhood exploits to a love story. The love story in the film is touching, but I couldn’t help but feel it was an awkward fit given how the early portions of the film are rooted in verisimilitude. The love story doesn’t match the rest of the film. It is a big, giant, grand love story in the middle of a gritty third world drama. The climax will win over audiences but it just seemed a bit much for me.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is very enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining despite the flaws. It is beautifully shot by Boyle and the soundtrack he chose give the film a real pulse. Boyle’s film shows that love transcends environment or hardship, and that fate can bring any two destined people together. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE isn’t a great film, but it is certainly a crowd pleaser that does a great job of recreating a truly authentic India.