Saturday, November 29, 2008

What does a slumdog know? The answer. (Reviewing Slumdog Millionaire)

In the case of Jamal Malik, the answer he knows is not necessarily the one that will win him millions of rupees on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The answers he knows are loyalty, love, perseverance, and truth.

In a story largely told in flashbacks, the movie opens with Jamal being tortured by the police as they are sure that no uneducated slumdog would know the answers to win 10 million rupees. As the detective takes him through the background for the answer to each question, we see that Jamal's life has extraordinarily prepared him for this moment. Each answer is the linchpin to a hardwon bit of information in key events of his life which begins as a tyke in the Bombay slums. Jamal and his older brother Salim exemplify brotherly love in this Dickensian tale which shows us modern India in a way that surpasses documentaries. To a point that is. We watch warily as Jamal retains his tenacious grip on truth and loyalty while Salim is only to willing to use brutality to achieve his goals. In the mix is Latika who the brothers encounter as children and who Jamal loves for herself in contrast to Salim who uses her as a playing piece for his own purposes.

As the story begins to catch up to current time, the viewer then finds many other questions such as how Jamal got on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire at all and why he is doing it. This is where the story picks up speed and intensity as the past gives way to the future which the movie characters don't know either.

As with Charles Dickens' way with a story, Slumdog Millionaire shows us a classic tale of adversity and the human spirit told with passion and peril. Yet, despite the bleak slum setting there always are swirling the gleams of hope and humor that keep this story from being depressing. Directory Danny Boyle uses his trademark "canted shots" (Rose has the correct name for everything, being fresh from film classes), swift cuts, close-ups and speed to convey the spirit which carries the film. Anyone who has watched even a few movies set in India knows to expect vivid color and vivacity. Boyle uses this to great effect not only to show us past and modern India, but to express life which is always moving forward despite what has preceded it.

In fact, it just occurred to us that the current tragedy in Mumbai (Bombay) of which Get Religion says, "India, of course, is a culture soaked in religion. It should not be surprising that this massacre is soaked in religious content and imagery..." is reflected to a degree in this movie as well. As modern as the techniques being used by terrorists are, the fact remains that human nature and India are timeless.

Allow me to drop the hint not to miss the credits which express India in a way unique to the movies. Also, the soundtrack deserves credit for keeping us definitely in place. I want it for my repeated enjoyment, but then I'm a sucker for modern Indian music.

The movie is rated R and the rating is earned. However, I will add that Boyle used inference to a large degree for some of the most disturbing scenes and it was these that honestly brought Charles Dickens to mind. There is not much in that movie at which Dickens would not have nodded knowingly. The types of poverty may have changed over the years but the human capacity for both vileness and love have not. I have seen PG-13 movies which have shown greater explicitness than this movie. It is the content of Slumdog Millionaire which is adult, as it rightly should be. This is a story with themes which should be pondered by adults. Those who do so will find themselves enriched on many levels.

Highest recommendation.

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