1000 Great Films
(c) 2009, William L. Sinclair

Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle, 2008 (10*)
Best Picture (AA,BAA,GG)

Slumdog was worth the wait, as it never came "to a theater near me", so I waited for the dvd. Fans of either British director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary) or Bollywood movies won’t be disappointed. You know you're in a Boyle film from the very beginning, when this story of two brothers growing up as orphans in the streets of Mumbai starts with Jamal (now almost an adult), played by Dev Petel, being brutally interrogated by police about fraud on a game show. The frank and brutal style of Trainspotting is evident throughout this film in tilted camera angles, blurred street montages, quick crowd pans, fast editing, even more trains. Its either Boyle or Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai (Chungking Express), both have similar action styles. Both cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and editor Chris Dickens won well-deserved Oscars, as the pace and visual style of the entire film are knockouts – it only slows down a little toward the end, and after the first 90 minutes you’re nearly breathless.

The film begins in the present, then tells the story of Jamal and his brother Salim in flashbacks, wonderfully played by four young actors at two age levels when growing up. The story contantly shifts back to the police interrogation, and Jamal’s story of how he knows all the trivia allowing him to do well on the show. (Amil Kapoor is very good as the slick game show host). We get glimpses of Latika, a girl the brothers help when all are orphans, and who grows up into the gorgeous Freida Pinto, one of the most stunning actresses ever.

Without giving too much away, this is brutal story of crime and survival that is also a heartwarming and uplifting story. It shows the darker side of India: religious violence, torture, child abduction, street crime, child slavery. Basically, all the things you get from extreme poverty. Yet, in Jamal, we have a character based on hope and positive self-image, rising above his roots, who turns away from organized crime, continues to fight for survival, and search for his true love.

This had to be an excellent novel, based on "Q & A" by Vikas Swarup. The screenplay adaptation by Simon Beaufoy was an excellent and won an Oscar®. However, I think the real star of the film is A.R. Rahman's terrific music (one of the best scores in years), winning him two Oscars®, as he also won for the song "Jai Ho", shown over a mock Bollywood musical number during the film’s closing credits, with the entire cast dancing between trains. Hats off to either Boyle or Tandan for that terrific sendup, from a movie that was hardly musical, or even light-hearted.

I rarely give out a 10, but this will make the second one for 2008 films, Wall-E being the other. I’m very surprised that Indian co-director Loveleen Tandan didn’t also receive an Oscar®, as Danny Boyle did. Slumdog swept the Oscars® if you weren’t noticing, winning for picture, director, adapted screenplay, cinematography, editing, sound, music, and song. Eight Oscars®

Note: The film is in English; what little is in Hindi is translated with on-screen balloon subtitles coming from the character speaking, a novel way to do those. On top of the Oscars®, Slumdog won just about every critic's award this year that Wall-E didn't win.

A link to the awards page (75 won in all) at IMDB: Slumdog Awards

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