The dam burst on Christmas and the theater flooded with a fresh batch of this year's prestige pictures. Valkyrie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Marley & Me, The Spirit and Bedtime Stories took the silver screen by storm. A few lucky markets got Gran Torino. But a little indie with a couple of big-time talents absolutely absconded with my heart on Christmas day, and that was Slumdog Millionaire.
From a narrative perspective, this work is very accomplished. The story follows a pair of orphaned Indian boys as they hustle their way into adolescence in many of the worst environments in India. The actors who play the youngest versions of Salim and Jamal (check IMDB for spelling of their names) are fantastic in the first act. They share an undeniable chemistry and their genuine sibling affection for each other is palpable. Salim is the elder. He's hard (as evidenced by the sale of his brother's prized autograph) and he's dangerous. He's imposing toward the other urchins in the garbage piles and begging scams. Jamal is the romantic. He's the dreamer. His character ultimately matures and blunders onto the popular Indian version of the show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?
The sad story of the early life of these brothers sets in motion a string of coincidences, punctuated by their on-again, off-again companionship with a young girl named Latika, that ends with...well, I don't want to spoil it. You need to see this.
Latika and Jamal dream of a life together in a house on Harbour Row, but what they face is a series of degradations and hardships that only drive them further apart. The narrative initially outlines events set in the past before culminating in an impressive climax, realized in the present.
Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) is a strong director, though he has his bad days (Sunshine, The Beach) as well. He's 100% on top of his game here. The shots are vibrant, India alive in a wash of pastels and muted tones that come together in some form of horrific beauty. Boyle keeps the pace up, and the editing is a huge strength. The parallel narrative sequence of the first two acts rivets the audience to the action on the screen. And, as in many of his better films, he illustrates a superb grasp of sound. The soundtrack pulses through almost every shot, the songs complementary to the emotions of the characters on the screen.
And the acting. Dev Patel nails it in his portrayal of Jamal. He plays the role of the self-deprecating dreamer perfectly, and is a wonderful foil to the charismatic Anil Kapoor. Frieda Pinto is striking in her turn as Latika. All in all, this one was very well played.
I haven't been as happy leaving a theater as I was after leaving Slumdog in a great long while. I hope that the goodwill that this film has garnered in the early awards season (four Golden Globe nominations) carries it into January.
Go see this film. You'll be happy you did. Oh, and don't miss the Bollywood dance at the end.