Danny Boyle’s latest is a fast paced (mostly) look at life in the slums of India, and an engaging and interesting portrait of a young boy’s like and his story of survival and search for love.
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is one question away form winning India’s version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and at age 16, he is currently being questioned by police to find out how he has gotten as far as he has in the show, and they are not playing nice. After a bit of civility kicks in from the police chief (Irfan Khan) the two sit down and Jamal explains to him how he knew each answer, beginning from the easiest to the last one he has answered. We are then transported back 10 years into flashbacks as Jamal and his older brother live life as kids in the slums of Mumbai, and we learn the little stories in his life that taught him the answers to the questions on the show.
The movie is kind of a mix between Usual Suspects and Forrest Gump in structure, in that it’s a criminal investigation (Suspects) as well as blending fiction with history (Gump) and you get a well structured fast moving story through the first two acts. The story shifts from a six year old Jamal to a ten year old from the first to second act and the third act catches us up to current age of Jamal when he is telling the story. Seemed throughout the stories is also a bit of romance in the girl that got away from Jamal in Latikia (Freida Pinto), a fellow slummer that gets hooked up with Jamal and his brother along their adventures, and proceeds to come in and out of his life as time goes on.
Boyle’s direction is spot on with his unique style he brings to the screen in full effect here while also getting some great work out of a lot of first time actors, and kids on top of that, that are able to sell us on this bit of a larger then life story that unfolds. Boyle’s editing and music work to great effect while capturing the feel and setting of the slums to great effect. Outside a minor third act slow down, the movie keeps its brisk pace alive, and other then a bit of a lack of chemistry between the two oldest leads, the relationships feel genuine which is impressive the cast that is thrown together her.
The actors also do a fairly good job as well across the board. Irfan Khan is great as always as the questioning police chief gaining compassion for Jamal as well as basking in the grandeur of the story. Dev Patel does an admirable job as the eldest of the three Jamal’s, but his chemistry with Freida Pinto, who was also a bit eh, just didn’t work for me. The youngest of the Jamal’s, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, is the best of the main stars in the film in my opinion and is great at winning the crowd over and engaging us in this story from the get go. But what it comes down to is that Boyle, and his co-director for the Indian actors Loveleen Tandan, get exceptional work for what they were working with, and get more then good enough acting to make us believe in this story, which is what makes the film good.
In the end, Slumdog Millionaire is an engaging, stylish, and fast paced crowd pleaser that takes you to a world that most of us don’t have any exposure to. The clever story telling mixed with solid acting will keep you almost always engaged while making you care about the characters fates in the end. And while it might get a bit to sappy by the time it is all said and done, it feels real and authentic through out, and the slums are a fully lived in world that are as much as a character in this story as any of the faces in the film. Definitely seek this one out as it spreads wide across the country, as this little film will give you plenty of entertainment for a night at the movies.