Slumdog Millionaire

Movie Information

The Story: A poor young man -- a "slumdog" -- goes on a game show and proceeds to win a fortune, but the question arises as to whether or not he cheated. The Lowdown: A truly magnificent film to be savored -- funny, intense, moving, warmly human and done with enough style for at least half a dozen movies.
Score:

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Director: Danny Boyle (Sunshine)
Starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan, Frieda Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Saurabh Shukla
Rated: R

When Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire appeared as the closing-night film at this year’s Asheville Film Festival, it received not one, but two rounds of applause—one as the ending credits started to roll and a second when the words “A Danny Boyle Film” and “Slumdog Millionaire” appeared at the end of those credits. I can’t attest to this personally, since I was still in the theater, but I was told you could hear the audience out on the street. I tend to believe it, though, because I can’t remember a response like it. And Slumdog Millionaire is a film that fully deserves such an outpouring of audience love. It’s a truly remarkable work—that incredible rarity of a film that is both a crowd-pleaser and absolutely brilliant filmmaking. It’s a joyous, moving, living work that propels Boyle to the forefront of filmmakers working today—and unless an actual miracle occurs on movie screens between now and Dec. 31, it’s the best movie of the year.

Newcomer Dev Patel plays Jamal Malik, a lowly “chai walla” (tea boy) for an outsourced phone-soliciting company in Mumbai, who manages to become a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Jamal has his own, very personal, reasons for getting on the show, which don’t become clear till late in the film, thanks to the nigh-on-to-perfect structure of Simon Beaufoy’s (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) screenplay. At the same time, the show’s rather smarmy host, Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), doesn’t believe that a “slumdog” like Jamal could possibly know the answers to the questions on the show, yet Jamal keeps answering them correctly. Convinced that Jamal is cheating, Kumar has him arrested and questioned by the police. Jamal’s interrogation at the hands of an authoritative, yet ultimately not unsympathetic police inspector (Irfan Khan, The Darjeeling Limited), reveals not only how he knows the answers, but provides us with Jamal’s life story—and that of his brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), and the girl he loves, Latika (Frieda Pinto).

What could have been nothing more than a workable framing story is turned into purest magic by the way it’s handled and by the way everything fits together. The sheer precision of the construction of the film is a joy to behold. There’s not a wasted moment. Everything is geared to the story and the characters, but done in such a way that it feels organic rather than contrived—not in the least because Slumdog trades very heavily on the principles of humanity and entertainment. It works to make you love the characters and become invested in their story without seeming to through a series of events that are funny or terrifying or exciting or heartbreaking or uplifting. Boyle and Beaufoy bring everything that’s appealing about the movies into play in a way that in lesser hands might have been brazenly manipulative. But because it’s all done with such emotional honesty it feels completely genuine.

At the same time, Slumdog permits itself the luxury of being completely open about the stylized nature of its approach (Boyle comes very close to making the viewer rethink some of the basics of film), and allows itself to be—for want of a better word—just a little bit corny and obvious in the bargain. It’s not that the film transcends these elements, it’s that these elements help to make the film what it is and allow Slumdog to contain so much in its two-hour running time. In that space, the film manages to present three life stories, suggest several others, play out a perfectly splendid romance, stage the redemption of one character, keep the audience in rapt suspense with a device that will make you smile rather than groan—and top it all off with a Bollywood musical number. It’s all as close to perfect as you’re likely to get.

The film becomes even more remarkable when you consider the size of its canvas and the fact that the time frame requires the three main characters—Jamal, Latika and Salim—each to be played by three different actors over its course. To some degree, it probably helps that none of these actors are familiar faces, so we’re never distracted by recognition value. That, however, neither entirely explains, nor does it lessen, the accomplishment of it all. I’ve seen the film three times now and continue to be amazed with each viewing.

I should note that a handful of the viewers at the film-festival showing had trouble with the nature of some of the film’s earlier scenes—particularly those depicting the offhand torture of Jamal by the police—and left the theater (some to their later regret when they heard about the rest of the film). Yes, these scenes are tough to sit through—and the image of someone hanging from a rope while being given electric shocks is a strong one—but they are necessary to the tone and setting of the film. Moreover, these scenes are not in the least indicative of the overall film. Bear with them. What follows makes this more than worthwhile. This is truly a must-see movie. Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

30 thoughts on “Slumdog Millionaire

  1. Stacey

    Wow! It sounds as fabulous as it looked in the trailer! Do you know when it will have its run at the Fine Arts?

  2. Sean Williams

    The sheer precision of the construction of the film is a joy to behold. There’s not a wasted moment. Everything is geared to the story and the characters, but done in such a way that it feels organic rather than contrived—not in the least because Slumdog trades very heavily on the principles of humanity and entertainment.

    Considering the number of modern directors who cite artistry as an excuse for protracted ego-trips, that’s pretty much the highest praise I can imagine.

    This entire review conveys a sense of delicate balance — you say Slumdog is emotional but not manipulative, precise but not mechanical, sprawling but succinct…. If it’s even a quarter as good as you say, it sounds like incredibly poised artistry.

    I’ve seen the film three times now and continue to be amazed with each viewing.

    The very fact that you returned twice speaks volumes about its quality!

  3. TigerShark

    >> particularly those depicting the offhand torture of Jamal by the police—and left the theater (h—and the image of someone hanging from a rope while being given electric shocks is a strong one—

    Does this really go on in India and other third world countries? And yet they get annoyed and are out for blood if someone spits on their Koran?

  4. Ken Hanke

    Does this really go on in India and other third world countries? And yet they get annoyed and are out for blood if someone spits on their Koran?

    I’m not sure that India can properly be called a third world country, but I am sure that the predominate religion is Hindu, not Islam. As to whether this goes on, I can’t say. I’m sure it does to some degree in quite a lot of places.

  5. dave

    India is not a 3rd world nation, nor is it a muslim country, “tigershark”. Not too bright out there in the ocean, eh?

  6. niki

    I’m back, Ken. However this time I MUST agree with you 200%. I just saw the movie 2 nights ago and it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Every detail in the story wove together beautifully by the end of the movie, making it unique and suspenseful as well as captivating. Definetely worth the staggering $10 ticket prices have shot up to. I’m cheering for this one at the Golden Globes.

  7. todd

    Wonderful film–thanks for the glowing recommendation.

    My group was confused by the bathtub full of money scene at the end (not saying more than that to avoid giving away stuff better kept). Insights and/or explanations greatly appreciated.

  8. Ken Hanke

    My take is that it’s a combination of a comment on what the character has sold his life for and the only way he can effectively expiate his guilt.

  9. john r

    I’ll be the “wet blanket” here. I found this movie to be a bit too idealistic. The depictions of poverty and torture were unsettling, and to expect that anyone could endure this without taint or scars seemed fanciful.

  10. Ken Hanke

    The depictions of poverty and torture were unsettling

    I think they are supposed to be.

    and to expect that anyone could endure this without taint or scars seemed fanciful.

    But who does endure it without those things? (In one case, literally.)

  11. nancymoo

    I agree, Ken. I think that all of the characters carried the weight of their situations with them.

    This was by far the best movie I have seen in a long time!!

  12. niki

    “The depictions of poverty and torture were unsettling”

    But they exist…that’s the point. And also the idea that love triumphs over everything, perhaps adding to the “fanciful” portrayal you describe. Each character acts out their roles beautifully in this movie.

  13. Steven

    As I was leaving the theater I heard someone say, “The teenage romance felt tacked on”.

    I should have asked him why he felt that way because that is something I definitely don’t agree with.

  14. Ken Hanke

    As I was leaving the theater I heard someone say, “The teenage romance felt tacked on”. I should have asked him why he felt that way because that is something I definitely don’t agree with.

    You should have asked what drives the plot — why is Jamal even on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — without it. Unless I completely misunderstand his complaint, it seems about like saying, “That King Kong would be a great movie if they got ride of that ape.”

  15. Steven

    Indeed. I have seen complaints from a few critics on why he likes her in the first place. I’m not sure if this is what he was referring to or not.

  16. irelephant

    Nothing in the picture felt false to me. I enjoyed every bit and thought it was one of the best love stories I’d ever seen. The story telling is staggering, brilliantly done. I’ve more or less really liked only half of Danny Boyle’s filmography, and found the other half just kind of interesting. Never could deny though that he was working his way to the top ranks of filmmakers. With Slumdog Millionaire he’s made the first film of his that I love. Can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

  17. Ken Hanke

    I’ve more or less really liked only half of Danny Boyle’s filmography, and found the other half just kind of interesting. Never could deny though that he was working his way to the top ranks of filmmakers. With Slumdog Millionaire he’s made the first film of his that I love. Can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

    I’ve pretty much liked all but one of the Danny Boyle pictures I’ve seen. The odd film out for me is A Life Less Ordinary, which I actually disliked a good deal. Someday I’ll try it again, but I’m not in a big hurry. I know The Beach isn’t well regarded on the whole, but I haven’t seen it. (It’s in an ever-growing stack of things I need to see.) As far as loving his films…I loved things about Millions, but can’t say I quite loved the whole film. I did — and do — love Sunshine, and I know that’s not a popular opinion. But I don’t think there’s any denying that with Slumdog he’s moved into an altogether new class as a truly major filmmaker. I’ve seen the whole film four times now and the last 30 minutes I’ve watched at least another five times. I am blown away on every viewing and find new things to admire each time, which, for me, is the real test of a movie.

    What comes next? Slumdog is going to be a tough act to follow. Even though I’d say most of his work is special, this movie is the kind of special that so completely stands apart that it’s going to be hard to build on. It’s the kind of movie that simply doesn’t come along very often.

  18. irelephant

    There were parts of A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach that I liked, but I wouldn’t put them on a list of recommendations. I thought Sunshine was really well done, but I didn’t care about it, didn’t feel invested. 28 days Later, for me, a life long zombie film lover, was f*#@ing brilliant, despite some flaws. I don’t mind flaws in certain movies and books: it sometimes makes me feel closer to them. Trainspotting was another movie that got me to read the original book because I liked it so much. It’s been so long since I’ve seen Shallow Grave that I don’t really know anymore what my impression is. I don’t feel especially drawn back to it–and that’s telling for me. Maybe I’ll watch it again someday. I really like Millions, good entertainment.

    Slumdog will be a tough act to follow. There’ll be alot of expectation on him. I imagine the expectations will be similar to the expectations A Life Less Ordinary generated in some circles after the success of Trainspotting. We’ll see. Whatever he does I know it will be interesting, regardless.

  19. Ken Hanke

    I thought Sunshine was really well done, but I didn’t care about it, didn’t feel invested.

    Ah, now there we part company, because I very much did care and find the final shot and narration intensely moving.

    I don’t mind flaws in certain movies and books: it sometimes makes me feel closer to them.

    Anyone who minds flaws really has no business watching movies. Flaws often are part and parcel of a film — and what makes their makers human and gives them a personality. Care to go over Bride of Frankenstein and count the mismatched shots? And it’s still thrilling cinema.

    It’s been so long since I’ve seen Shallow Grave that I don’t really know anymore what my impression is. I don’t feel especially drawn back to it–and that’s telling for me. Maybe I’ll watch it again someday

    I don’t know that I think it’s exactly a good film, but I do think it’s a brilliant calling card.

    I imagine the expectations will be similar to the expectations A Life Less Ordinary generated in some circles after the success of Trainspotting.

    And that’s really kind of unfair. And it’s equally inevitable. I don’t know about you, but I often find that any film by a filmmaker worthy of following sometimes falls more into place when you see the film that follows it.

    Oh–and have you read Slumdog’s source novel?

    Not so far.

  20. Johnny

    The reason that the relationship feels “tacked on” is because the movie, above all else, is a portrayal of India with everything else tacked on. Yes, the relationship was the vehicle by which the story was propelled, but it was a weak motor in the end.

    Jamal and Latika’s relationship was not developed whatsoever. They were seven and then never saw each other again. Give me all the romantic justification you want about the nature of love etc, but I simply didn’t care that they got back together. I didn’t care about them when they were together. I think the story’s wonderful, but a bit ambitious for a film adaptation – three life stories and a love story all feel lacking to me. Not to mention that I didn’t find any actor particularly effective except for the child Jamal who was pulled off of the streets.

    Another sour note – the bathtub filled with money scene garnered zero effect from me. Cheap symbolism and a cheap visual tool. The same applies for the shaky camera and vibrant color scheme. I understand that it’s a device for explaining the motion and color of India, but it overstayed its welcome and began to lose its effect when it was used in every scene.

  21. Gyandeep Pattnayak

    Dear Mr. Hanke,

    Thanks for reviewing this movie the way it is. I really loved this critique of yours. Am so ashamed that in my country India, a few know-alls tried to shun this little gem of a movie. They said, ‘the foreigners are enjoying Slumdog, but only because it shows people ridden in poverty’. I was heart-broken. Least thing I expected from my people. But, am happy that thus moviw was appreciated elsewhere. QAma lso overjoyed that you loved it.

    By the way, I am the same person with whom you had a long argument over United 93. Where are the last comments, by the way? I dunno how, but they are not available on the page anymore. The same comments where I admitted my guilt of criticizing you,not the movie.

    Hope you will reply.

  22. Ken Hanke

    They said, ‘the foreigners are enjoying Slumdog, but only because it shows people ridden in poverty’.

    An interesting take, though I hardly think that’s the reason. For that matter, I’ve known of several cases where people actually walked out of the movie because the depiction of poverty made them uncomfortable.

    In any case, the film has indeed been embraced elsewhere. It’s in fact still playing strong at multiple theaters here in Asheville, which pleases me greatly.

    By the way, I am the same person with whom you had a long argument over United 93. Where are the last comments, by the way? I dunno how, but they are not available on the page anymore. The same comments where I admitted my guilt of criticizing you,not the movie.

    I recognized your name and I remember your apology and my acceptance of it. I have no idea what happened to the comments. I haven’t been there since and don’t have anything to do with maintenance. I don’t even have the ability to delete anything.

  23. Gyandeep Pattnayak

    Thanks Mr. Hanke,

    You also mentioned that the torture methods used in this movie are gruesome and very violent. Believe me, even the most sanitized movie made in India has the same type of violence. Of course, the methods abroad are different. Infact, the laws are different and the police does not hit a prisoner in the Staes or elsewhere.

    As for the poverty topic, yes, I do believe many people would have felt uncomfortable. but, would you believe, here the pundits started banning the movie.

    Perhaps, they are not used to reality. I mean, it was all there even before Slumdog happened. Why the hoopla now? All hue and cry for no reason. Forget it that they don’t even care for the fact that Danny Boyle has taken the responsibility of educating the child actors of SM (the child actors are real slum dwellers). The parents of those children, after seeing the success of the movie, have started complaining about the minimal fees paid to their children.

    Believe me Sir, here the truth needs to be thrust into the faces of other people. Still, they will hate facing it. Here, one crab tries to pull the leg of the other if it tries to climb up.

    P.S. Hope you have seen another brilliant movie about slumkids named, “SALAAM BOMBAY”.

  24. T_REX

    After seeing this film a second time I must say WOW! It really is a great film. I still say Benjamin Button was best picture of 2008 but this film is still amazing! Kudos to Danny Boyle. I think he can direct any genre of film.
    I must say Sunshine was in my top ten for 2007 but the ending ruined it for me. Why did he have some “super slasher film killer” that couldn’t die before the end of a very smart sci-fi film?

  25. Kendo_Bunny

    On earlier comments – no, India is not a “Muslim” country, but it does have a very substantial Muslim population. The main characters depicted in “Slumdog” are at least nominally Muslim… they were all orphaned by the fighting in Mumbai, and their more Arabic names would point to them having Muslim fathers. Letter of the law, that’s what they are.

    As for India being a third world country, it’s one of those places that seems rather difficult to qualify, going between wealthy professionals with a first-rate education and direst poverty. In America, we tend to focus on the direst poverty side of the coin… I guess because our worst off are light-years ahead of real slumdogs. I think a bit more realization that Indian culture is vast and varied is a great thing, for all that we get fairy tales with it.

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