"Is that your final answer?" Those re-assuring words once echoed by Regis Philbin and others from the popular game
show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" are back. But not necessarily in the style or format that you think. While
the show itself remains central to the plot, "Slumdog Millionaire" is far deeper and much more rewarding. Delivered
with tremendous enthusiasm, this is the tale of an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai who winds up on India's
version of the hit television show. Upon reaching the final question, he is arrested on suspicions of cheating and
must defend his honor by reliving his heroic and tragic upbringing. Directed by Danny Boyle, who once again ("Millions")
goes straight to the heart, "Slumdog Millionaire" is a moving journey of life and love. From simple, childhood glee to
teenage trouble and heartache, it's a universal story that will leave you breathless.
A contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," Jamal Malik, a former "slumdog" (orphan) from
the impoverished slums of Mumbai, steps off the stage at the end of the show only to be taken into custody by police. But
no Miranda rights exist here as Jamal is strung up and beaten senseless in an attempt to force a confession. A confession
that he somehow cheated and knew all the answers on the strictly secure game show. Reviewing videotape of the show,
question by question, the police interrogator asks how and why he knew the answers. And with every question, Jamal
flashes back to a particular episode in his difficult childhood.
From his mother's death at the hands of anti-Muslim raiders to the pursuit of an autograph from a famed Bollywood film
star to the blossoming friendship with Latika, another orphaned girl. Jamal tells of his short and tragic life, his
struggle to survive with his older brother Salim, and their life in the underworld of Mumbai, a dangerous world filled
with thieves, grifters, and gangsters. Through it all, Jamal, Salim, and Latika become separated, only to be brought
back together, and broken up again. Will this rags to riches story have a happy ending? Will luck, love, passion, and
destiny prevail? Everything, it seems, comes down to that all important, final answer.
It's a bit ironic that a director whose early success, founded on such topics as drugs ("Trainspotting"), horror ("28
Days Later"), and science fiction ("Sunshine"), would put forth his best work in the area of uplifting drama. But such
is the case with Danny Boyle, a director who continues to explore new territory, take the right chances, and present new
and exciting ways to tell stories. Much like 2004's "Millions" which blended personal tragedy (loss of mother) with
fantasy elements (saints) from a child's point of view, "Slumdog Millionaire" takes it to the next level, but through
the eyes of a young man - a slumdog, with no parents and no formal education, makes it to the final question of a million
dollar game show based solely on his life's experiences. And in relaying each story, Boyle expertly incorporates
pulsating cinematography, editing, and music to move his visionary tales forward.
At the heart of "Slumdog Millionaire" is a unique character - India. Unlike the colorful and musical India as depicted
in many mainstream Bollywood films, the India depicted here is both modern and upscale; overpopulated and
impoverished. Like all the other characters throughout the course of the film, Mumbai evolves and grows. And is perhaps
the most diverse. At the beginning of the film, on one side of the street, you have the poverty stricken slums. And
later in the film, on the other side, you have big businesses, luxury condos, skyscrapers, and office parks. It's an
amalgam of the class structure, the diversity, and the rapid growth that exist in India today. And a vibrant and thriving
key character in the film that simply comes alive.
Adapted by Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty") from the novel, Q & A by Vikas Swarup, "Slumdog Millionaire" carefully
weaves multiple storylines and timelines together with breakneck speed. And it does so by maturing along with the
characters, unapologetically. From a boy's viewpoint to a teenager's to a young man's, the film gradually builds a
sense of community, family, and love. Crafted similarly to films like "For Love of the Game," where flashbacks occur
throughout the course of a game, "Slumdog" uses "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" as the vehicle to relay the story of
Jamal and the trials of his early life. It's nothing new, but when executed well, borrowing many elements from Dickens'
Oliver Twist, plus Indian cinema, culture, and language, it becomes fresh and new to audiences all over again.
Casting is never an easy task in filmmaking. But made more complex when characters are depicted throughout a film at
different points in their lives. So, a very big round of applause goes to Gail Stevens and Loveleen Tandan for a terrific job in
finding child, teenage, and adult versions of Jamal, Salim, and Latika. Because at no point in time in the film do you
question which actor is which character. In particular, the casting of Dev Patel, whose only prior experience came as a
sex seeking teen on the British television series, "Skins." Patel is the glue that holds the film together, from the
moment we first see him being tortured to the final question on "Millionaire." There is a certain truth in his eyes and
voice so compelling, so rebellious, and noble, we want to see him vindicated.
Yet, with any fairy tale, there is a great sense of predictability in how things end. And "Slumdog Millionaire" is no
different. A little bit of tragedy, a little bit of magic, and they all lived happily ever after. But fairy tales
withstanding, it's hard not to compare "Millionaire" with "Millions," an underappreciated gem of a movie with an
overabundance of creativity and fantasy that concludes in a magical, yet unexpected way. "Millions" is arguably, the
better movie. But "Slumdog Millionaire," with it's universal appeal, visionary filmmaking, and tremendous score by A.R.
Rahman, will have an outstanding shot at bringing home an Oscar.