Exhilarating. Enthralling. Heartbreaking. Stunning. Shocking. Breathtaking. Heart-stopping. These are all cliches. The words journalists loathe and hope their readers do too. However, I unfortunately have a thing for using cliches, and everyone of these words represent “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” is brimming with energy. Every shot, every second, invokes the highest amount of different emotions. Whether it’s shock, suspense, sadness, or laughter; “Slumdog Millionaire” takes every emotion up to eleven.
“Slumdog Millionaire”‘s flashback flash to present is barely new, but Boyle plans to pull it off in an innovative way. The movie begins in Mumbai, India in the present day. A teenage boy named Jamal (Dev Patel) has for whatever reason, been granted a once in a lifetime opportunity to compete in an Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” How has he gotten zero question wrong. Did he cheat? Only the flashbacks can tell.
The rest of the film traces Jamal’s story through flashbacks that come from the questions he is asked. He began as nothing but a boy in the slums (a “slumdog”) with his brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail). The two go from destitute orphans to traveling con artists making money off of tourists and such. Along the way, Jamal falls in love with, and then loses a beautiful girl named Latika (Freida Pinto). He devotes the rest of his life toward finding her again and somehow ends up competing for 20 million rupees on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” How does he get there? How does he find Latika again? Only the past will tell.
The best way to describe the style of “Slumdog Millionaire” is Tarantinoesqe. It is told in a way that the flashbacks come together to form some sort of coincidences in the future/present and all together fate in the end.
The entire film takes place and was shot in Mumbai. Mumbai is a city that holds over 13 million people crowded into one space. Much of it, are the poorest slums you’ll ever see, the kind you could never imagine. Boyle captures the shoddy slums perfectly in stunning air and tracking shots which capture the slums close-in and see the mass scale of them from high above.
As I said, the poverty level is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. For a film about such poor and terrible social conditions, you’d think the director would’ve chosen a much more gloomy and depressing tone. Maybe something along the lines of “The Constant Gardner.” Instead, it’s shot with lively colors, a hip soundtrack (“Paper Planes”!!), and fast-paced cinematography. Even the subtitles are bright. Because of this, the movie is never boring, and Boyle shows us that even some of the worst places still have the potential to be alive with energy and optimism. Especially after the very recent terror attacks in Mumbai, that city could some optimism, and this movie would bring it to them. Not to mention, it also has a much bigger sense of humor than I expected. Yes, a movie that has the potential to be a Best Picture nominee contains one of the funniest poop jokes I’ve seen in a long time.
“Slumdog” is not all joyous however. Along with the brutally honest images or poverty terrible living conditions there are also extremely disturbing stories of violence, sacrifice, and corruption. Boyle manages to mix this together and you can feel the bad morphing into the good. It is that which makes this one of the most uplifting (in a non-schmaltzy way) movies I’ve seen.
Here is the paragraph where I should say that “Slumdog Millionaire” is far and away one of the best movies of the year and no doubt deserves a best picture nomination. Both of these things are very true. But I don’t need to tell you this; you should be telling yourself this, and you will be as the final credits role.
In these dark times, “Slumdog Millionaire” offers the definition of escapist entertainment for it allows us to escape yet makes us face the real world at the same time.
Recommended for Fans of: City of God, GoodFellas, The Constant Gardner, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Snatch, Mean Streets, Born into Brothels