Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

By David Luhrssen
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Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is becoming this year’s indie success, earning accolades and steady box office business. The British director (Trainspotting, 28 Days) has matured. Cheekiness is hard to spot in this brutal yet hopeful story about a poor boy from Mumbai, Jamal, who makes good amid the bright lights of India’s biggest TV quiz show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” He also finds himself in police custody, beaten, tortured and interrogated because he’s winning too much money on the show. “What the hell can a slumdog possibly know?” his tormentors demand.

But despite minimal schooling, Jamal has a memory like fly paper. Most everything he ever saw and heard sticks and he’s able to call up answers to every quiz show question. Cutting deftly from jail to the TV studio, from past to present, Boyle constructs Slumdog from fast (but never dizzying) edits. The flashbacks of official brutality, heinous criminals and an assault by Hindu nationalists on his Muslim neighborhood often illustrate how Jamal came across the answers he gives before a cheering national audience rivaling “American Idol” in numbers.

Along with editing, Boyle composes Slumdog Millionaire from dozens of camera angles, many askew but revealing. The slums of Mumbai are a frenetic crazy quilt of sound and color, a worn but vibrant patchwork. While beautiful to see, Boyle never romanticizes poverty. Jamal has survived unspeakable horrors with only resourcefulness and good fortune saving him from starvation and death. Humorous, sweet and heartbreaking, the happy outcome of Slumdog Millionaire is hard earned.

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