Dev (Jamal Malik) is an impoverished Indian teen who has wound up on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”. Dev may not be the smartest kid around, but somehow he’s one question away from being as rich as the host. How did he get here?
Slumdog Millionaire’s unique narrative (which is a character itself) answers that question by cutting from the questions Dev is asked in the game show, to past experiences in his life that somehow reveal the answer. So essentially, every question is a story. Some of the stories are hilarious, others heartbreaking, several cringe-worthy, but they are all poignant and fierce.
Over the film, Dev, his wily older brother, and Dev’s love interest, Latika (Freida Pinto) are each played by three different actors. Each actor blends perfectly with the other ones. At times, it’s hard to even notice that they’ve grown up. That’s a very good thing. We’re so engrossed with the story, that we never see the switch, not too many films can pull that off.
The authenticity of the film helps with its overall brilliance. Filmed in the streets of Mumbai, we get a front row seat to musty brutality. You’ll feel cramped in the streets as Dev runs from the police, bustling his way through thousands of people. You’ll feel the wind in your hair as Dev catches a free ride on top of a train. You can smell the grime and taste the shit.
I’m not going to talk about any of Dev’s stories or the outcome of the game. But know that this is a brutally honest often frank portrayal of life in the hard knocks.
Visionary director Boyle, who never makes the same film twice, has grabbed us again. He defined drug addiction with Trainspotting, made zombies scary again with 28 Days Later…, even cooked up a thoughtful family film with Millions. Now, giving us his best film yet, he’ll shoot right to the top of the list for best director.
Slumdog Millionaire is rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language. The violence is sparse, yes, but when it comes, it comes fast and furious. Give Boyle credit for doing it tastefully. I only mention the rating because I think this is a film that every single person needs to see. I’ll even call it a family film given the values that are presented.
It makes it all the more prevalent that several of the filming locations were recently struck with unspeakable tragedy. Seeing the film now is like watching a whimsical love story that takes place in the twin towers. But get ready, Slumdog Millionaire is a big Oscar contender. It’s the most original film of the year. Should you go see it? You don’t need any lifelines to figure that one out. A+