December 4, 2008

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Slumdog Millionaire (R)
A boy raised in the slums of Mumbai finds himself on the brink of winning 20 million rupees on India’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in the fascinating and delightful Slumdog Millionaire.

Danny Boyle, the director here, is probably best known for stuff like Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later and Sunshine — spooky, scary, grungy stuff sprinkled with violence and smirkiness. But he’s also the director behind Millions, an utterly charming movie that mixes a young English boy’s sorrow over losing his mother with a fantasy about finding a bag of money and a caper that develops out of his attempts to spend the money.

Slumdog Millionaire has plenty of the scary, grungy, gritty dark side but it also has some of that fairytale-like quality. We meet Jamal (Dev Patel) as he is being tortured by police who believe his rise on the game show has to be the result of cheating. How does a kid from the slums of Mumbai know the answers, the cops say. The magic of the questions is that each one corresponds to some part of Jamal’s life and the story of the questions unravels the story of his life — how as a young boy Jamal (Ayush Mashesh Khedekar) and his brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) survived a riot in their slum to find themselves living at a garbage dump with other children, briefly captured by criminals, grifting at the Taj Mahal and (at least for Jamal) working in a call center in the new, global Mumbai. As the boys age, Salim (Madhur Mittel) adapts to their environment by becoming a street tough but Jamal seems forever tied to a basic decency by his love for Latika (Freida Pinto), a girl he meets early in life.

Slumdog Millionaire, a movie that features some of the oppressive poverty on earth, could have been a good-for-you movie, one that taught you things about the world but was a chore to watch. Instead, it’s a joyous movie, joyous despite some truly horrific things that happen, joyous in a really honest, earnest way that recalls the joy of Millions even though its subject is much darker. The movie has a kind of open-heartedness, one that is conveyed by the three young actors who play Jamal. He loses, over the course of his life, everything but he never loses a kind of hopefulness that in the circumstances seems magical but not cloying or delusional. He fights for his hope, and that struggle gives hm depth and genuineness.

Slumdog Millionaire is the best kind of feel-good movie, one that’s not afraid to have an earnest world view but doesn’t sink to using clichés to demand that you feel. B+

Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language. Directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan and written by Simon Beaufoy from a novel by Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire is two hours long and distributed in limited release by Fox Searchlight Pictures.