Barely on the radar screen months ago and, at one point, not even scheduled for theatrical release, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire has become a darling among film critics and is poised to be the dark horse winner at this year’s Oscars. Thankfully, all of this hype proves to be well deserved. The film is a rousing entertainment, combining elements from Dickens, Warner Brothers’ movies of the 1930s and Bollywood productions in a movie that delivers a tale of faith and love, buoyed by hope and a bit of luck.
Jamal (Dev Patel) is a young man on the verge of great riches as he’s one correct answer away from winning the grand prize on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” However, before he can do that, he’s hauled off to be interrogated because it’s suspected he’s cheated on the show. As he’s re-asked each question, we see through flashbacks how Jamal came to acquire the knowledge he’s used. We see key moments from his life, one of crushing poverty in which he and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) had to fight to overcome one obstacle after another, having been orphaned at a young age.
The trials these two combat play out like an old melodrama as one brother falls into a life of crime, while the other strives to stay on the straight and narrow, always pining for his lost love Latika (Freida Pinto), a young girl the brothers had to abandon but who reenters their lives in a most unexpected way. Jamal’s journey is a perilous one as he must escape an orphanage in which children are blinded and then sent out to beg, a vicious crime lord who wants to keep his true love under his thumb and the envious game show host who resents the fact that the spotlight has shifted from him to this audacious newcomer.
Fate throws Jamal one curveball after another in his quest for love and the manner in which he overcomes these obstacles provides the film with a sense of positive forward momentum that builds to a satisfying climax. Patel is an appealing performer; he gives Jamal a sense of optimism in the face of such incredible despair that we can’t help but hope he succeeds. His odyssey through the worst modern Indian society has to offer is sustained by his strong heart and mind providing a testament to the power of perseverance and hope. It’s a rousing, if a bit overlong, journey that has audiences cheering, and rightfully so. Slumdog’s message of faith in the face of hard times is a relevant one, which people everywhere are eager to embrace and believe. Boyle and his crew deliver the message with sincerity and verve.