'Slumdog Millionaire' an amazing film

December 18, 2008|By PHIL VILLARREAL / Arizona Daily Star

By driving the show into the ground, Regis Philbin and ABC made sure everyone got sick of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" earlier this decade.

But "Slumdog Millionaire" is such an amazing movie that, among other things, it manages to make the played-out game show riveting again.

Jamal (Dev Patel), an uneducated 18-year-old from the Mumbai slums who works at a call center, is an answer away from taking the 20-million-rupee grand prize on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

Before he can attempt his final answer, however, Jamal is arrested and accused of cheating. After the detectives can't get Jamal to reveal his suspected ruse, they start to hear him out. The meat of the story, played out in sharp, heartbreaking vignettes, lies in Jamal's explanations of how he came to know the answers. The detectives take him through the questions, each of which connects to a vignette that shows how Jamal learned the answer through his life experience.


Hardscrabble British director Danny Boyle does an astounding job at building and maintaining suspense.

The likes of Oliver and Annie had it easier than little orphan Jamal. Con artists try to trick him and his brother, Salim, into becoming "professional singers" -- actually, roadside beggars who funnel their proceeds to the men, who want to make adjustments to the boys based on the fact that blind kids get twice the donations.

The meek, standoffish Jamal and the exuberant, wily Salim scamper around the streets with boisterous glee, their spirits undeterred by their downtrodden surroundings. Both pick up street smarts as they endure triumphs and tribulations, but drift in different directions of coping, with Salim leaning toward the quick riches of the gangster lifestyle and Jamal taking the path of forthrightness and responsibility. Both fall, in varying degrees, for a neighborhood girl named Latika.

The Dickensian story cuts from the past to the present as 60 million viewers tune in while Jamal prepares for the final question. He seems crazy for answering given the fact that he could walk away with a fortune.

In banter with the host, as well as with the detectives, it's clear that the money doesn't matter to Jamal. His motivations for appearing on the show aren't made clear until late in the film.

Aside from stellar performances and brilliant writing, the movie also has some of the most effective subtitles I've seen. The Hindi sequences pop with boxed text against a light-colored background so there's no danger of the words getting lost.

Although you're sure to get lost in the spell of "Slumdog Millionaire."

Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language.

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