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Vibrant Slumdog Millionaire Reaffirms Boyle's Talent

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Apr 03, 2009
Vibrant <i>Slumdog Millionaire</i> Reaffirms Boyle's Talent

DVD Release Date:  March 31, 2009
Theatricl Release Date:  November 12, 2008 (limited)
Rating:  R (for some violence, disturbing images and language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  120 min.
Director:  Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
Actors:  Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Irfan Kahn, Madhur Mittal, Anil Tiwari, Anil Kapoor

Director Danny Boyle made a splash in the 1990s with Trainspotting, a harrowing but energetic film about the perils of drug addiction. Following a couple of poorly received films (The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary), he directed an instant classic in an entirely different genre—horror—with the zombie story 28 Days Later. Rather than direct the sequel to that film (28 Weeks Later), Boyle turned his attention to Millions, an imaginative film centered on a child. He followed that with another wildly different film—the science fiction story Sunshine.

Now Boyle, working with Indian director Loveleen Tandan, has delivered something that is, once again, altogether different from his earlier work. Slumdog Millionaire, an uplifting story about a young man triumphing on an Indian game show, is a colorful, vibrant film that reaffirms Boyle as one of the more interesting filmmakers working today. The film, which was rapturously received at film festivals prior to its commercial opening, is not quite as good as some of the early hype indicated, but it’s an uplifting crowd-pleaser that should satisfy most audience members. However, those audience members should be adults, not children, owing to some of the film’s dark undertones and its “R” rating.

Dev Patel stars as Jamal, a game-show contestant who, in the film’s early moments, is poised to win the top prize on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The pressure mounts with each correct answer Jamal gives, but when time runs out on the cusp of his final question, requiring him to leave the studio overnight, he is forcibly interrogated by an investigator (Irfan Kahn) who demands to know whether Jamal is cheating. When his torture of Jamal fails to break the game-show contestant, the interrogator listens as Jamal explains his upbringing.

Jamal, a Muslim, loses his mother during a religious riot that leaves him to fend for himself, along with his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and a young girl, Latika (Freida Pinto). These “three musketeers” experience immense hardships in an orphanage, where the man in charge gouges out the eyes of some of the orphans because blind beggars bring in more money. The boys break free of the orphanage, but Latika is left behind.

Jamal pines after Latika and spends years trying to track her down. He becomes a “chai wallah” (a deliverer of beverages) at a telemarketing firm, while Salim becomes a gun-wielding gangster. After Jamal learns that Latika has also become tangled in the gangster’s web, he determines to rescue her.

Slumdog Millionaire is primarily entertainment, but it does not lack for social commentary. Reunited with Salim in their later teens, the brothers look over the slum they once inhabited, now transformed into a series of skyscrapers—a picture of India’s transformation into a modern-day commerce center. And yet, younger people are still taken advantage of, and a life of crime and exploitation still can ensnare the most vulnerable members of society.

Religion is not absent from the film, although it expressed through the boys’ Muslim experience. “God is good” and “God is great” they say to each other, while one confesses, “O Lord, forgive me, for I know that I have sinned.” Jamal, Samir and Latika also believe in ideas of destiny, and repeat the mantra “it is written” several times.

These comments and elements are more on the periphery of the story than at its center. The film is not interested in religion as a driving force in the lives of its characters. Instead, it settles for that most tried and true movie plotline, “love conquers all,” as Dev pursues Latika through the years. As the film winds toward the final game-show question and the story’s climax, we learn of Jamal’s motivation for appearing on the program and of the fate of his relationship with Latika.

Slumdog Millionaire is a tapestry of Indian culture, including elements of Bollywood musicals that offer moments of joyous outbursts. Its pulsating soundtrack and more disturbing moments aren’t for all tastes, but mature audiences looking for a feel-good story will find much to admire here. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s an easy movie with which to fall in love.

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  • Language/Profanity:  Boys say “Oh, sh--,” but the word is cut off; a boy extends his middle finger at someone; crude reference to the female sex organ; some other foul language.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Smoking; drinking by young teens.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A young boy, naked, jumps out of bed; he’s teased by other children who say he has “chilies on his willie”; young boys taunt a pursuer by thrusting their hips toward him; a man and woman entangled on a mattress appear to be making love; a gangster has young women as sexual servants.
  • Violence/Disturbing Imagery:  During an interrogation, a man is beaten, strung up, and given electric shocks, and comments are made about violating his rights; he spits blood; a boy jumps into a pool of human waste; a man tosses a child aside, and the child strikes the man; a boy vomits as scalding hot liquid is poured into another boy’s eye sockets; blinding liquid is thrown in a man’s face; boys fall from a moving train; a boy wields a gun to gain power over others; a knife is pressed against a throat; a man urinates at a urinal.
  • Religion:  Rioters set upon a Muslim village in India, beat and kill men and women, and burn their village; a character says “God is good” and “God is great”; a character says, “O, Lord, forgive me, for I know that I have sinned; “it is written” is repeated several times, almost as a mantra.