“Met a girl, fell in love, glad as I can be
Met a girl, fell in love, glad as I can be
But I think all the time, is she true to me?
cause there’s nothing in this world to stop me worryin’ bout that girl.”
“Love beats the demon.”
-Natural Born Killers
In their review of “Bad Boys II,” Robert Ebert and Richard Roeper brought up an action sequence showing the “heroic” cops driving a Humvee through a shantytown or the slums of a place and smashing everything in sight. Ebert talked about how there were drug dealers in there, but he also brought up that there were probably also poor people trying to get by any way they can. With “Slumdog Millionaire,” we get a look at the people who live there. Granted, “Bad Boys II” took place in Miami, and “Slumdog Millionaire” takes place in Mumbai, but it doesn’t look like the living conditions are all that different. This new movie from Danny Boyle gives us a very clear picture of who lives in those slums, and of how they survive in their cramped and claustrophobic world. Certainly makes you look at that big Humvee scene in “Bad Boys II” a lot differently, assuming you ever wanna watch it again. That movie was as bad as “Slumdog Millionaire” is good.
Some of the best movies take us to places we most likely have never been to before. “Slumdog Millionaire” is one of those movies as it takes us through different parts of India from the poor towns to the set of the country’s own version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” The movie starts off with our main character, Jamal Malik (played as an adult by Dev Patel) who is being interrogated by police because they believe he is guilty of cheating on the popular game show. No one can believe that a slum kid like him could do so well on the show without having the answers in advance. As the police get to the bottom of how Jamal has done so well, the movie flashes back to his childhood as we see how his answers represents his journey to where he is now an adult. We soon discover that his motivation to be on the show has nothing to do with money, and that’s regardless of the fact that he is on the verge of winning a lot of it, or of losing it all.
The movie then flashes back to when Jamal was a boy, and when he and his brother Salim are suddenly orphaned and forced into surviving by stealing goods to sell on the streets, and by conning naïve tourists (naïve American tourists turn out to be the best targets) by giving them tours of the Taj Mahal that is anything but factual. During their travels on one homeless night, Jamal sees a young girl all alone in the rain who he quickly invites to where he and his brother Salim are sleeping. From there on, a relationship emerges that becomes Jamal’s one real reason to live. They of course experience troubles, but you soon come to see why he is really on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.”
I have to tell you, Danny Boyle really surprises and amazes me as a film director. Every movie he seems to make is almost completely different from the one he made before it. Danny first gave us “Shallow Grave” that had severe paranoia among a trio of roommates, and then he gave us one of the seminal drug addiction movies with the brilliant “Trainspotting.” From there, he went Hollywood on us with “A Life Less Ordinary” and “The Beach,” and that almost made us completely forget what made him so good in the first place. Then he went the independent route and reinvented the zombie movie genre with “28 Days Later” which he shot in digital and made for dirt cheap. From there, he made a family movie with “Millions” where a couple of young boys come across a big bag of money thrown off of a train, and then find creative ways of giving the money. As you can see, Danny Boyle has become an incredibly unpredictable filmmaker, and you would have thought that his next movie would take place in India. Some directors feel safer filming in the towns and states they are most familiar with, but not Boyle.
“Slumdog Millionaire” seems to have come out of nowhere it seems, and I didn’t even know that Danny Boyle was working on it. He clearly appears to have fallen in love with the lives and culture in India and of what has come out of it. While it is portrayed as a place with much squalor which many third world countries deal with on a regular basis, there is also a beauty to it all as we see different types of people and cultures coming together in ways we have not seen. Along with director of photography Anthony Dod Mantle and India co-director Loveleen Tandan, Boyle gives the town of Mumbai a beauty and vibrancy that you don’t see in many other places as it goes from a poor town to a city of growing bigger by the minute. The town is stripped of its stereotypes and seen as a place where people work towards a better life.
The story of the movie in itself is very familiar to as it is a story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl as we see that Jamal never stops thinking about Latika (played as an adult by the lovely Freida Pinto) and yearns to find her wherever he goes. She makes his life worth living, and she gives Jamal something to fight for. But unlike a lot of bland Hollywood romantic comedies or romantic movies in general, it is not at all manipulative and not just about rich white people. It is about people coming up from nothing, and Boyle’s movie is supported by a cast that does not have one single weak performance in it. The emotions in the movie and the actions of its characters never feel less genuine.
The other great thing about this movie as it becomes even more suspenseful and thrilling as it heads towards its final act. The ending of the movie had me tense on the edge of my seat and quickly reminded me of what an exciting game show that “Who Wants To Be Millionaire” was when it was in primetime. It even reminds me of just how much ABC pimped out the show as the rest of their primetime schedule seemed worthless in comparison. Of course, the American Broadcasting Company had pimped it out so much that it soon become worthless and has since become consigned to the lonely area of daytime television. But there is no denying how intense it can get as it is shown in this movie.
Anil Kapoor plays the India host of the show, Prem Kumar, and he is basically the anti-Regis Philbin. Prem playfully insults Jamal as he finds out that his job involves serving people tea while everyone works at their cubicles. He taunts Jamal into believing that he will be winning this because of the trust he has in him, but Jamal keeps his cool even while he has a hard time breaking a smile while on television.
Danny Boyle gives the money a big advantage by casting unknowns in the cast, and they are all wonderful here. If Boyle was forced to cast big name stars in the movie, I’m not sure it would have had the same effect that it does here. It might have ended up like any other romantic movie ever made, and that would have been a shame considering the passion that is clearly seen in the making of it. The movie succeeds in showing the specific details of the world these characters inhabit, and it sucks us in almost immediately. The actors in the movie don’t act their roles as much as they inhabit them, and that makes their scavenging adventures all the more interesting.
Dev Patel is perfectly cast as Jamal, and he never overplays his part or simply acts out the emotions. The same goes for the rest of the cast including Madhur Mittal who plays the adult Salim whose life has taken a different direction from Jamal’s as he heads into a life of crime and is employed by a big time drug lord in Mumbai. The relationship he has with Jamal is complicated to say the least as they stick together through the tough times, and then later split apart under desperate circumstances.
Along with a great soundtrack that I will most certainly buy when it comes out on CD, “Slumdog Millionaire” is one of 2008’s most memorably exuberant movies that at its heart is a love story. While many of us come into love stories with a deep cynicism as the regular Hollywood follows the traditional formula, this one gives you believable characters that you root for and who you never want to see separated. Fox Searchlight plans to make this movie this year’s “Juno” or “Little Miss Sunshine,” but don’t let any probable backlash keep you from seeing this movie. It has a big heart, and it will excite you in a way many movies like this don’t.
**** out of ****