Slumdog Millionaire lives up to its premise even at its most far-fetched, creating a beautifully realized and edited film.
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is in trouble. The police have been called on Jamal because he has correctly answered all of the questions on a quiz show worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and one question still remains. What no one believes is that Jamal, a lowly “slumdog” who grew up impoverished on the streets and back roads of India, could know such things without cheating. Told in flash back, Jamal explains to the police inspector that he hasn’t cheated but rather endured a harsh childhood growing up that had fatefully provided all the right answers.
This rags-to-riches meets boy-meets-girl story has every opportunity to veer into melodrama or farce, yet the story is determined to be compelling and hopeful in even the worst situations without seeming implausible. This third element, the main character’s struggle in the face of adversity, keeps the film grounded each time certain doom evolves into gleeful opportunity. Director Danny Boyle keeps the pace and story elements swirling until the very end, and by then the film has certainly earned one perfect moment of happy implausibility (and, of course, a Bollywood dance number during the credits).
While Dev Patel and Freida Pinto play the adult Romeo and Juliette in this tale, it is the combination of several actors and actresses playing the couple and the hero’s brother that make the story work. Told in flashback from the police station (where human rights appear to be proportional to your ancestral fiscal standing), each successfully-answered question is a minor celebration followed by a seed of tragedy that made the answer possible. Like the inspector himself, even the audience starts to wonder when the next tale will be too horrible to hear, and that hook works brilliantly through the film to the very end.
It’s easy for audiences to relate to the Hindi version of “Who Wants to be A Millionaire?” since many countries have their own version, and it also makes it easy to identify with the hero of the film. The formula is exactly that, and Slumdog Millionaire will almost certainly spawn imitations as fast as people can assemble the time and money. It could be argued that the film holds more than a bit of commentary about people underestimating people and their worth, but whether you call it fate, kismet, or karma, once in a while it’s nice to see the good guys get to win.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)