I should point out that this isn’t really a ‘feel-good’ movie. It is frequently incredibly sad, is often harrowing, and tells a very dark story. But it has a solid heart, is directed with complete integrity and is blessed with incredibly strong performances, all of which make this a very welcome sure thing for the Oscars. ‘Slumdog’ is the story of Salim and Jamal Malik, Muslim brothers living in the slums of Mumbai, and we follow their extraordinary and very different lives as their resilience and good humour see them escape their poverty, but in contrasting ways. Where Jamal has the integrity, Salim will do whatever it takes to get on in life. Where Jamal retains his optimism and takes the knocks he’s given, Salim veers into petty and then serious criminality. Throughout Jamal’s life he’s been liked but a loser, but when he gets onto India’s ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ everything changes, and everyone’s roles have to move on.
The film is told during Jamal’s incarceration, having been suspected of cheating on the show, after he answered all questions but one correctly. Did he cheat? If not, how did an uneducated ‘slumdog’ come across the answers? The answers lie in his background, and the film links back from his show performance to flashbacks across his whole life, which explain his knowledge. It’s a device which occasionally comes across as strained – Celador (the owners of the ‘Millionaire’ franchise) are the co-producers after all, and the film frequently runs the risk of becoming a promotion for the show. But what saves it (and indeed makes it stand out) are the performances, not just by Dev ‘Skins’ Patel as Jamal, but the actors playing his younger self too. That goes for Salim’s younger analogues as well, and very much for those of the ‘Third Musketeer’ Latika. Latika after all is the source of Jamal’s optimism, and the cause of much of his pain. It is rarely in doubt that the two lovers will end up together, but given the stark realism of the story you are led to wonder.
Director Danny Boyle shows us a tragic yet beautiful India, carried forward by a cockeyed and totally unjustified optimism. The use of real street children, the heavenly cinematography and the killer score never fail to engage, nor surprisingly does the ‘Millionaire’ conceit, as Boyle constructs an Everyman for the 21st century in Jamal. Patel’s performance is surprisingly assured, given his one-note character in ‘Skins’, and he’s no doubt destined for great things. A film which triumphs community over social class? Couldn’t be more highly recommended. 9/10