Alright, now that 2008 is over, I can say with certainty that Slumdog Millionaire was damn near the best thing I saw last year. I guess I’ll have to put it behind The Dark Knight, but it’s a close second. It reminded me of the classic City of God in its portrayal of impoverished youth running wild. I don’t want to reduce it to that superficial comparison though. It was a love story, a drama, and coming-of-age tale rolled together.
The movie begins against the backdrop of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Young Jamal is poised to win the top prize and has aroused the judges’ suspicion. He has to explain how he became so knowledgeable, since it’s very difficult to actually advance that far in the game (duh). What follows is a series of flashbacks to his youth, and the movie unfolds as he is asked each successive question and recounts the life experience that yielded the particular knowledge. He and his brother Salim are forced to fend for themselves after their mother is murdered in a raid on their small village, or whatever you call it. The film is set in Mumbai, but the boys live in a destitute little enclave teeming with other “slumdogs.” When their mother is killed the boys begin a life of begging, stealing, hustling, and surviving by the skin of their teeth. They come across another street urchin named Latika, and the three become fast friends. At various times throughout his life Jamal becomes separated from her, but she’s never far from his thoughts. When he and Salim escape the hands of a predator who exploits orphaned children by forcing them to beg in the streets, Jamal is heartbroken that Latika was unable to flee with them. Salim is dismissive, preferring not to compete for his brother’s attention and affection. The actors portraying Salim and Jamal were a revelation. They were adorable, and excellent actors to boot.
The movie was enthralling, masterfully written and executed – from the title to the cast and story. I enjoyed the filmmaking style, which really made you feel as if you were on Jamal and Salim’s journey with them. As a viewer, I was particularly invested in Jamal’s outcome. He and Salim’s paths diverged as Salim, more reckless and daring – falls in with a local kingpin, but it is his heroism and abandon that saves his brother’s life. I’ll leave it at that, an obvious ringing endorsement. This joint is like an instant classic, a real gem.