Slumdog Millionaire -- 4 stars

Fate propels an Indian orphan to game show superstardom

Directed by Danny Boyle. November 2008, India/USA. Rated R: 120 min.
(Originally published in buzz magazine on 12-21-08)

Just when cinephiles thought they finished their “top movies of 2008” lists, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire took independent theaters and art-conscious multiplexes across the nation by storm. The movie—adapted from Vikas Swarup’s novel, Q and A, combines the best elements of Hollywood and Bollywood in its life story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a Mumbai Muslim orphaned by a Hindu mob. He and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) become slumdogs: petty thieves who take advantage of European and American tourists to survive. Slumdog shows how destiny led Jamal to the set of India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire—and to rediscover the love of his life, Latika (Freida Pinto).

Boyle’s picture disorients us from the first shot. The plot structure dances between a brutal police interrogation, Jamal’s childhood in the streets and the game show at breakneck speed. The fragmented presentation’s dramatic buildup pays off big time when all the characters lay their cards on the table and take the biggest risks of their lives. Will Jamal win the 20 million rupees and reunite with Latika? Will Salim—corrupted by his love of money—learn to show compassion?

Slumdog dazzles the eye and grips the heart in ways most traditional films cannot. Kudos to Editor Chris Dickens, whose abrupt cuts in both sound and picture generate a sense of raw intensity, as do canted angle close-ups, grainy videotape footage and skipping playback (like watching streaming video on a dial-up internet).

The bold experimentation in form and compelling depiction of a poor boy’s fated rise to fame make Slumdog an absolute must-see. This original masterpiece is a reminder of why we go to the movies!


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