Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

You would think after writing over a thousand of these alleged ‘reviews’ I’d run out of stupid anecdotal stories to tell, but amazingly I haven’t! You see I can halfway relate to what my man Jamal (Dev Patel) went through in Danny Boyle’s spectacular ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. Not the fact that his mother was murdered, the homelessness, the abuse, the lifetime searching for a lost love but the actual game show aspect. Years ago when I was parking cars (best job I ever had) the crew had Jeopardy on in the booth and on that particular day Alex was literally lobbing softballs in my wheelhouse. The subjects consisted of The NFL, 80’s sitcoms, African American History, Fun with Nintendo, Literature of the Enlightenment (a class I was taking at the time) and Biology which was my freaking major. There were more subjects that I had intimate knowledge of and I was answering every single question to the amazement of my fellow Valet. I can’t remember what the Final Jeopardy question was but the answer was Fatty Arbuckle which I knew because my mother had just brought the book ‘Hollywood Babylon’ which I had read from cover to cover just days prior. Grossly miscalculating that I was some kind of genius, from that day on whenever one of my Valet needed some advice or a question answered they turned to me, and I provided them with what they needed, usually incorrectly and almost always with disastrous results.

When first meet Jamal he is being abused by some local cops in his hometown of Mumbai. His crime: Cheating on this country’s version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. His police inspector torturer (Irrfan Khan), apparently having read Sadam Hussein’s primer on extracting information, just wants to know how he did it considering that Jamal is simply a ‘slumdog’ and doctors, lawyers and professors haven’t gotten close to the level of success on the show that Jamal has attained. The thing that surprises the inspector and his fellow torturers is how tough this thin sweet looking young man seems to be, and no matter what they do to him, he maintains that he just knew the answers.

In a very unique and clever story telling device we are guided through the life of Jamal and his older brother Salim from boys to young men as the questions asked to him seemed to somehow correlate to events in his supremely harsh life. The host of the show (Anik Kopoor) as it turns out was literally lobbing softballs into Jamal’s wheelhouse. This life consisted of losing his mother, orphaning the two young boys and Jamal meeting the girl he would spend the rest of life trying to protect in Latika. The boys would travel across India for most of their lives living off the land, hustling, robbing and doing whatever they needed to do to survive. Salim from the start was the over powering force of the two brothers as this harsh way of life etched away at his soul, with the only thing he truly cared about was protecting his brother, even from Latika who for the life of him he could not understand why he cares about this girl so much. Eventually Jamal’s story and the questions that he’s answering leads us to how he got on the show and how he ended up being tortured in a local police station, and yet he still has one more question to answer for all the marbles.

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was simply a wonderful movie to experience on so many levels. We’ve seen movies that are tragically grim and hopeless and we’ve seen movies that are unrealistically happy and joyful but while Boyle’s adaptation of the novel by Vikas Swarup can get about as grim as anything we’ve recently seen it still manages to maintain an upbeat spirit and joy which almost lends itself to a complete celebration of life. Amid the stellar technical aspects that make this film a joy to watch such as the outstanding cinematography, the crisp tight editing and the flawless direction, movies are always at their core about actors and all of the actors, especially the child actors in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ were great. The two boys playing the youngest Jamal (Ayush Makesh Khedakar) and the youngest Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail), along with the little girl playing Latika are among the best child actors I’ve ever seen. If you think about it there’s a lot of pressure on those kids because they launch the movie and they probably had the most screen time. If you don’t buy those kids in the situations that they were thrust into then I don’t know if you can buy into the rest of the movie, but they pulled it off without nary a hiccup.

I suppose if I had to dig for criticism of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ it was a bit of a fairy tale, Salim’s character was one confusing dude to get a grip on and I knew early on what the final question in the game show was going to be which was easily gleaned from a bit blatant foreshadowing but that’s about it.

This really was one fine movie and it probably had the best closing credits ever. I have no idea why they dance in Bollywood movies, but if I’m watching one and they don’t dance then I’m pissed off. I could also mention that I made my film debut in a locally shot Bollywood movie but that’s another worthless silly anecdote for another time. You just can’t go wrong with ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

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