Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is so many movies blended into one film - a nearly perfect film - that it's almost impossible to accurately put into words what this masterful director has accomplished with one of the best movies of the year. Just see it. The comparison that keeps coming to my mind is a movie that you would probably never equate with a story about a homeless Indian teenager. Remember how Quentin Tarantino took familiar elements of the noir and pulp genres and made them feel completely new in Pulp Fiction? Slumdog Millionaire may have nothing to do with Vincent Vega on a plot or thematic level, but what Boyle and his writer Simon Beaufoy have accomplished is similar in that you've seen all the parts of their film before, but they've never clicked together to form quite the same sum. Part fairy tale, part Dickensian myth, part Bollywood extravaganza, part cultural examination, part travelogue of a country rarely so well represented, part passionate romance - Slumdog Millionaire is a masterpiece that not only leaves you smiling but counting the days until you can see it again.
Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), an 18-year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, whom we meet as he's one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India's version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? The movie opens with a question: How did Jamal do it? The possible answers: He was lucky, he knew the answers, he cheated, or "it is written." The producers of the show think it's #3 and, before he can answer the final question, they throw Jamal in a cell, torture him, and demand answers about how a street kid with no education could get further on a quiz show than anyone before him. Jamal is forced to essentially tell his life story, intercut with the previous answers on Millionaire that he got right, a fascinating chronicle of his history on the run in the slums of India, which expertly makes the case that experience is the only education that matters. The inspector and the audience begin to realize that Jamal knew the answers for a reason, but the brilliance of Slumdog Millonaire is that, without giving anything away, I think all four answers to that opening question are true. Life is luck, knowledge, tricks, and fate. It’s who you know and what you do more than any book can possibly teach you.
And that's just part of Slumdog Millionaire. It's also the most effective love story of the year. It turns out that Jamal's main drive for his entire life has been his love for Latika (Freida Pinto), another homeless girl who he met in the run in his early years and who he has always tried to get back to. Can he win the money and get the girl? And what of his brother (Madhur Mittal), a once-loyal companion who gets sucked in by the dark side of slum life? The script for Slumdog Millionaire is a stunningly accomplished mix of suspense, romance, and drama that perfectly balances all of its elements into a seamless whole. The format of "asked question and real-life experience that made Jamal know the answer" could have easily devolved into a cheesy device, but writer Beaufoy never takes a wrong step, making the "fate" part of Jamal's experience feel completely believable. Slumdog Millionaire is about how destiny and knowledge don't have to be distinct; how love can overcome grim reality; how life is both unpredictable and completely in your control. It's an infectious joy to behold on every level.
I write a lot about how great films transcend their genre. Slumdog Millionaire has no genre. It is drama, comedy, musical, thriller, love story, and more in one transcending, riveting story. It is life on celluloid and, easily, one of the best movies of the year.
Rating: FOUR BONES
Reviewed by Brian Tallerico (MovieRetriever.com Film Critic)
Release Date: November 12th, 2008
Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kappor, and Irrfan Khan
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Simon Beaufoy