This movie is either incredibly timely, or unfortunately timed. Because it’s mostly set in Mumbai (“formerly Bombay” as they say) where the recent terrorist attacks occurred and are still being resolved as I write this.
And, the lead characters are Muslim children from the sprawling Mumbai slums, who have suffered the same kinds of humiliation and degradation and discrimination that experts say is at the root of the indigenous Islamic resistance movement in India.
But SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is not a political treatise, or even a work of social analysis, it’s an entertaining and engaging old fashioned fictional movie with some new fashioned twists, and one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.
I’m not crazy about all of director Danny Boyle’s movies. But I loved his first one, SHALLOW GRAVE, and now his latest, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. It has the same dark humor, fast pace, and somewhat contrived but rhythmically precise and perfectly executed plot devices of SHALLOW GRAVE, only SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is more epic, more beautiful, and more moving (with the help of a co-director Loveleen Tandan, who assisted on MONSOON WEDDING and has also worked as a film actor).
This film was obviously meant to take advantage of Mumbai’s new world-class status as one of the thriving success stories of India’s economic boom (the reason it was the target of the terrorist attacks). Unfortunately, now it will be connected to the attacks and the Muslim/Hindu conflict, even though the story is much more a combination of old style Hollywood, new style Bollywood, and the latest from the independent movie scene, than anything having to do with the current crisis.
But man does it work, or at least it did for me.
It uses three sets of actors for the different ages of the three leads who go from little children to young adults, and from the slums of a pre-economic-boom Mumbai to the heights of where that economic boom might take three orphaned slum dwellers.
The spirit of Charles Dickens fills the film with the kind of social scope combined with the tragic details of poverty that movies have abandoned for a long time now, but maybe we’ll be seeing more of with the worldwide financial crisis.
It was adapted by Simon Beaufoy (best known for his script for THE FULL MONTY) from a novel by Vikas Swarup, and as with the co-directors and cast and music etc. the combination of world class talents from England and India, among other countries, gives this flick a lot of it’s shine, and shine it does.
All the actors are excellent, the lead in particular, Dev Patel, (though there have been complaints that because he was raised in England he doesn’t have the proper slum accent) and the supporting actress Frieda Pinto, who is not only a fine actor but a beautiful screen presence (the kind that will cause many in the audience to fall in love with her in that way many of us do for newly discovered, to us. movie stars).
The soundtrack is terrific too (my eleven-year-old son will be delighted to hear that his favorite MIA song is used on it) and the cinematography deserves some kind of award, as well as the editing.
If you see it, be sure to stay for the credits, it’s the punctuation on the movie. And if you get that, you got the movie and will leave satisfied.