Saturday, November 15, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

The first thing I have to do in this review is to tell you to see this film. This is one of those stop-what-you're-doing, find-this-film-and-see-it kinds of movies. I obviously have not seen the films that Hollywood is saving for Oscar contention, but I still think I can say with some confidence that Slumdog Millionaire is one of the best films of 2008.

And, by the way, if you think you'll see the film and don't want any kind of spoilers, stop reading and immediately leave your house and see the film. Because you're bound to hear from some other source -- internet, radio, T.V., friends -- about this new film. There are a few spoilers here because I want to tell you basically what the film is about, but I'm not going to fill in many details.

Jamal and his older brother Salim live in one of the poorest cities of India: Mumbai (aka Bombay). Everybody's got a job in Mumbai, even little kids, as everybody in the family has to pitch in to earn money or food so that the family can live. One of the earliest scenes in the movie shows Salim at his job, collecting coins for a port-a-potty. And it's a very funny sequence. Right away, we see the love the brothers have for each other, but we also see sibling issues. It's not so much rivalry as angst, a disagreement on their values on the issue of survival. We also see Jamal's persistence at getting what he wants and what he's willing to do to get it, a theme that will come up later.

But this is really Jamal's story (young Jamal is played by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar). We follow him, and often his brother as well, through the next decade, and watch him become homeless. Along the way, while escaping town on the rails -- and the train becomes a theme, to be repeated often -- he befriends a little girl, Latika, who is also escaping. From what, we do not know. But as we can imagine, the life of a young child in India, let alone a young girl, must be frighteningly dangerous.

But the film opens when 18-year-old Jamal has managed to be a contestant on the very popular T.V. show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The police chief has, by request from the M.C. of the show, taken 18-year-old Jamal into custody, shake him down, and find out how he knew all the answers. Or to be quite direct about it, how he cheated.

Jamal tells how he answered each and every question, and in doing so, tells his story. It's a very clever, innovative way of telling the story, and I've never seen or heard anything like it. And with the telling, with each of Jamal's answers, we become more and more fascinated with this young man, and more and more drawn into his story, his search for who he is, and his endless quest to be reunited with Latika.

It seems obvious to say that the actors are incredibly gifted, both child and adult. The child and adult Jamal (the adult is played by Dev Patel), however, are beyond fantastic.

The image of the train comes up often. Jamal and his brother and friends often use the train to escape their situation, and amazingly enough, take the train back to Mumbai again. You would think they'd take the opportunities given them to escape and go to larger, more prosperous cities. Instead, they feel they must return home, and so the train takes them in a circle back to Mumbai. By the time they return, Mumbai has become a different town. But they, too, have changed. How they've changed is probably the most interesting part of this journey.

There are scenes of torture, child endangerment (no, more than that - child torture). I can promise you that the ending is uplifting. But if you can't make it through the dangerous journey that Jamal and other children most likely face in reality -- and, actually, as adults as well -- then you will want to skip this movie. But, much like a good Russian novel will tell you, you have to sacrifice to get the reward. And the reward is huge here.

Thumb's up doesn't quite describe the feeling I had after this sweeping epic. Director Danny Boyle has taken the material and turned it into a masterpiece. I highly recommend Slumdog Millionaire.



At 10:59 AM, Blogger Shiny said...

Hey Linda,
You say, "Salim lives in one of the poorest cities of India: Mumbai" but in actuality Mumbai is simultaneously the Richest and one of the poorest cities in India. Real estate in Mumbai is more expensive than in Manhattan...



At 11:02 AM, Blogger Shiny said...

...basically Mumbai is the largest, most prosperous cities in India, and yet the slums lick the edges of the posh neighborhoods, and the posh neighborhoods lick the edges of the slums... again, kind of like NYC. Or LA. But on adrenalin.


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