Jamal is a boy, who becomes a man, who becomes a millionaire, but that's all just strange fodder along the journey back to his heart. Slumdog Millionaire pulsates over its audience like a bullet train on speed, exposing you to extreme poverty, ruthless violence, and corruption. But if this was all the film offered, it wouldn't be a Danny Boyle flick. In true Boyle fashion, the heart of the film lies in the chest of his lead. At only six years old, Jamal Malik falls eternally in love with Latika, a fellow street rat born into the slums of Mumbai. As Boyle's camera pans out, you behold endless miles of tin can roofs and the surrounding landfills of garbage so high, you'd think you were watching Wall-E. How did Jamal get from there to becoming a contestant on India's Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Well if I told you, there wouldn't be much point in seeing the movie now would there? But, I can say that what keeps Jamal and the film alive, is love. It's not as cheesy as it sounds, I swear.
I went into Slumdog expecting a classic Danny Boyle movie, which is in part what you get, but you can also feel Boyle's desperate need to make a more emotional connection with the audience. His previous films have focused on anything from heroine addicts in Scotland to the last people in London fighting a zombie army, to a space mission trying to save the world. There are Boyle-addicts out there who think everything he touches turns to gold, and then there are people who cherry pick amongst his films to find the ones they love the most (notice I didn't mention the people who don't like his films at all, because I don't know any). With Slumdog you get your typical fast-paced camera work, glowing colors, and standard Boyle aura, but you can see just how much he wants and needs you to love these characters. For some, this feeling might come off as so severe, that it's off-putting. I personally, am a sucker for an emotional life struggle and was right there with them the whole time. In order to love the film, you have to love their battle, and if you don't, than the whole thing falls apart. For all the Rudy fans out there, this may very well be a movie for you.
We see the characters age from young children, to adolescents, and finally into young adults throughout the film. This must have made for a challenging casting job. You would need three equally charming, lovable, and talented kids to play the leads, each for about a quarter of the film. My typical reaction to child actors is that it always feels unnatural. They typically seem over prepared, overly made-up and completely simulated. I was pleasantly surprised that each actor and actress in Slumdog was a real kid. These children were legitimately natural (or else really, really excellent actors). This it why watching them could be viscerally hard at times. You witness electrocution, beatings, simulated drowning, and even blinding. They get under your skin. You watch Jamal and his brother Salim grow up into young men, and even though it happens right before your eyes, you're still unsure how they could have possibly survived that long. If you're watching this film in an artsy theater in Westchester (like I was), you're so far removed from their problems, that you almost feel guilty ingesting one more piece of butter drenched popcorn. While Boyle certainly took every opportunity to call your attention to the horrors that can occur in other parts of the globe, I doubt his ultimate goal was to make his audience feel like crap. His challenge was to show that anyone, despite the life they're given, can find a way to happiness. More often than not, that happiness comes from loving something bigger than yourself. This could be from finding religion, finding your calling, or in Jamal's case, finding the girl of his dreams. She was worth everything, and until he could find her again, everything else (even 20 million rupees), was worthless.
Dev Patel, who plays Jamal in his last incarnation, might be best known to those who watch BBC's Skins, as Anwar. In Skins he played a primarily comedic part, and I wouldn't have necessarily counted him among the show's standout actors (mainly because every actor in the show is destined for stardom). I was skeptical of what he could really bring to Slumdog, but he played Jamal with so much restraint and subtlety, that I felt like I was getting to know him as an actor for the first time. His performance, most notably in some breathtaking scenes with Latika, is incredible and perfectly suited to the film. Freida Pinto, who plays the oldest version of Latika, is stunning from the moment she steps onscreen. This is the first film credit to her name, and I have no doubt of her future success. She really is the most beautiful person most people have ever seen, and certainly worth fighting for. Her undeniable out-of-this-world looks do not lessen her ability to show humility though. When she smiles onscreen, you really get the feeling that this girl doesn't know how gorgeous she is. The two of them together captivate audiences and make even the biggest skeptics beg for more. Cheers to Danny Boyle, a British director, for creating what will become a classic Indian love story. The other characters do an amazing job of supporting the two leads. Everyone felt very suited to their part, most importantly Salim, who accomplished making you both hate and love him over and over again.
Short and Sweet
Apart from Rachel Getting Married, this is one of the best films I have seen this year, so far. There was so much to take in for one sitting, that it definitely has high re-watch value. You get an epic cultural introduction, heartbreaking individual performances, and beautiful filmmaking all rolled into one love story. Be prepared that it's a lot to handle for two hours, but I consider it a must see. Congrats to Boyle for the Best Picture Drama and Best Director Golden Globe noms. And make sure you stay through the end credits to watch some amazing Bollywood dancing!
"You're not going to get the next one."