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Slumdog Millionaire: A Frenetic Tale of Heartbreak and Joy

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire isn't the kind of movie that sits back and waits for you to fall in love with it. It doesn't give you the chance to refuse. From the opening minutes, it washes over you, sucks you in, and spins you through a whirlwind of colors and sounds and emotions. It's a movie that is completely, gloriously alive.


The movie centers on Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), an Indian teenager who's poised to win 20,000,000 rupees in his country's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The movie opens with him kidnapped and tortured by police who want to know who's feeding Jamal the answers. Doctors and lawyers don't even win the way he has; how could a kid from the streets possibly know all of this? The rest of the movie unfolds around that question, as Jamal explains through flashbacks and memories how every moment of his life has brought him here.

It's a joy to watch, but that doesn't mean it's an entirely joyful movie; parts of Jamal's story are downright painful, in the same way that watching The Wire makes me ache inside. But Slumdog never falls too deeply into heartbreak. Mirroring the path of its protagonist's life, every moment is another brick building to a perfect conclusion. For the rest of my thoughts, just read more.

Slumdog traces Jamal and his older brother, Salim, through three phases of their life, starting when they're boys orphaned in a religious riot. Props to the casting directors for finding two of the cutest, pluckiest kids on earth to play the young Salim and Jamal; child Jamal's wide-eyed sweetness goes a long way toward creating a fondness for the teenage version. The two escape one near-tragedy only to stumble into another, surviving only by their street smarts and a little bit of luck. In one sequence, the boys sneak onto a passenger train, make some money selling trinkets on board, get caught stealing food from the dining car, and are ultimately (and literally) thrown off; MIA's "Paper Planes" is the background music there, and it's the saddest that song has ever sounded. Things only get tougher as the boys age and start to move in different directions: Jamal charming but shy, Salim a rough-and-tough gangster who's always tempting danger.


Throughout it all there's Latika, the girl Jamal and Salim find during the riots and bring into their tight-knit world — their third Musketeer. Even as a child, Jamal feels it's his destiny to be with her, and that belief drives all of his actions over the next decade, no matter how reckless or improbable. In the midst of a very modern movie that bursts with color and drumbeats and quick, handheld camera shots, Danny Boyle and his cast create an old-fashioned romance.

Considering the breadth of what the movie covers — Bombay's shift from sprawling slums to gleaming megalopolis, the growth of three characters played by three different actors apiece, the seamless meeting of flashbacks and the present — Boyle's confident direction does a remarkable job of tying everything together, while Bollywood legend A.R. Rahman's soundtrack propels it forward with a driving beat. And while Slumdog is hardly subtle with its ending, it's earned; it's the only ending that fits. It left me clapping with joy through streaming tears, an absolute ode to love.

Photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight


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