won’t see a better, more exhilarating movie this year than Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire.” If Academy voters have any sense, they will nominate this for Best Picture and Best Director and then vote overwhelmingly for it for both awards.
Boyle has taken what is essentially a story about a young man on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and transformed it into a gritty, realistic, powerful and, at times, gut-wrenching fairy tale. It’s a Dickensian picture about a world rarely, if ever, seen in mainstream movies, a film that grabs us from the opening frame and doesn’t let go until the credits roll at the end.
This is why I love movies. Films like “Slumdog Millionaire” are rare. They are things of beauty, works of art that make me fall in love with movies all over again. Boyle has done it twice. First with “Millions” (2004), which also, coincidentally, was about a young boy and money; and now with “Slumdog Millionaire.”
This is Boyle’s masterpiece – a stunningly original piece of film-making.
Every once in a while there is a sleeper film, usually an independent movie, that comes along, takes everyone by surprise, then gets terrific word of mouth and becomes a huge success. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002), “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) – though I did not care much for it – and “Juno” (2007) are such films. But, frankly, those films can’t hold a candle to “Slumdog Millionaire.”
What might surprise many viewers is that a third of the dialogue is in Hindi. (And Boyle’s placement of subtitles on the screen makes such good sense!) Please do not let that dissuade you from seeing this marvelous film. Do not let the R rating prevent you, either. What was the MPAA thinking? Honestly! There are far more offensive, vulgar and violent movies that are rated PG-13. “Slumdog Millionaire” should never have received an R rating. (This film should be mandatory viewing for young people, especially those in industrialized nations.)
Simon Beaufoy’s script was originally entirely in English, but Boyle’s decision to have the Indian kids speak in Hindi, instead, is the right call. Having the children speaking in their native tongue makes perfect sense, especially because Boyle and Beaufoy depicts the realism of the kids’ lives.
That’s what incredible about this film. Boyle and Beaufoy do not shy away from showing the squalor of Bombay. These kids live in deplorable conditions amid the grime, sewers and trash dumps of the slums. And, yet, thanks of Boyle true ingenuity, he creates uplifting and even humorous moments in the slums. There is one moment – and I shan’t spoil it for anyone, but you will know it when you see it – that very well might be my favorite film moment in the last five years.
Boyle doesn’t do a thing wrong here. From his choice of actors to the music to his choice of colors, Boyle works his magic.
The performances are uniformly good. Irrfan Khan finds the right balance between a tormentor and a quasi-father figure as the police officer. There’s young Dev Patel as Jamal, playing with confidence, bringing a wonderful swagger to his role, as well as a sense of fear that we completely understand. Freida Pinto as the love interest is superb. And, of course, there are the three young ‘uns. Perfectly cast, they actually make the film work. Their performances as Jamal, Salim and Latika are so utterly convincing that they completely draw us into the picture and make the jobs of the older actors playing them much easier.
“Slumdog Millionaire” is, I suppose, a dramatic comedy at heart. But it is also much more. It is a film about friendship, gratitude, love, betrayal, poverty and hope. It makes you laugh, weep and cheer as you can’t help but marvel at Boyle’s sheer genius.
The film moves along at a breakneck pace, yet none of the cinematic flair – and there is plenty – seems superfluous. Everything Boyle does, including the Bollywood touches, makes sense. There’s such a brilliantly kinetic energy to this film that it is impossible not to be enthralled by it.
What Boyle has done is truly miraculous. He has turned a film about street life in Bombay into a visceral, genuine crowd-pleaser. And you will walk out of the movie theater feeling inspired and hopeful, knowing you’ve just seen something very special.
“Slumdog Millionaire” is not to be missed. It is the best movie of the year. And it is, without any doubt, one of the ten best films of the decade