Friday, December 12, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

The film takes place over a period of many years through a series of flashbacks. In the present we see Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) interrogated for supposed cheating on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire by a Police Investigator (Irfan Khan) and his subordinate (Saurabh Shukla) who simply can’t believe an uneducated street kid like Jamal could actually know the answers.

In his attempts to prove his innocence we are granted glimpses at Jamal’s early life as a child (played by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) with his older brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) through his performance on the show the night before.

What director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy give us is a thoroughly engaging and slowly unfolding tale as Jamal relates his story and the events which led to him learning the answers to the trivia questions he was given. Along the way we learn more about his life, his first love, and his tempestuous relationship with his brother

In many ways Ifran Khan (often cast in cop roles like this) is the eyes and ears of the audience. We discover Jamal’s story through his interrogation, and, like the Police Inspector, aren’t always given the answers we expect. The reveal of the truth behind Jamal’s appearance on the show, and his reasons for wanting to appear, give us more than we have any right to expect from a movie based on a multiple choice game show.

Given the darker turns taken through Jamal’s past it’s strange that the film’s one constant is a sense of hope. Jamal has been beaten down, disappointed, and had the one good thing in his life taken away, but he’s still standing. I can’t quite bring myself to call it a “feel-good movie,” but, even with its rougher story elements, the film has a life-affirming message of perseverance and faith which so many attempted “feel-good films” never deliver.

Slumdog Millionaire is a sweet, brutal story. In many ways it earns it’s R-rating, but at the same time it’s one of the most believable and heartfelt love stories of the year. I’m not always a fan of multiple time-frame flashbacks, but here they provide the proper structure to display the story, and still hold back one or two surprises as well. Filled from top to bottom with strong performances and well-paced engaging narrative Slumdog Millionaire is one of the best films of 2008.

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