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When we sat for director Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, we thought we were going to get another adult language, Brit in-your-face dramatic slam like his earlier masterwork Trainspotting. Glancing through the press notes, we noted that this film was set in the slums of India and featured three little orphaned kids. Not what we had expected or assumed. We thought Boyle had gone off his rocker. Shame on us. By the time it was finished, we didn't need to write much of a review. So here it is . . .
IN SHORT: Best of the Year. Period. [Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language. . minutes]
It shouldn't new news that the country of India is incredibly overpopulated. The depths of poverty that come with said overpopulation drive Slumdog Millionaire's early story, as two Muslim kidlets are orphaned when rioting Hindus kill their mother in the slums of Mumbai. Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Tanay Hemant Chheda) and Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala) protect each other and a younger femme orphan named Latika (Rubina Ali). Rescued by the "Hope Orphanage" the three soon find that their rescuers have ulterior motives, and not pleasant ones, kicking the story into a pseudo Oliver Twist mode. We'll skip huge parts of that aspect of the story to get to the overreaching arc, in which 18 year old Jamal (Dev Patel) is a contestant on India's version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. As Jamal works his way up through the increasingly difficult questions -- need we explain Millionaire to you? We didn't think so -- each question luckily clicks with some real life experience had by the now 18 years old Jamal, and the accompanying flashback drive Boyle's film along at a terrific pace.
Well, that and the fact that the game is fixed . . .
The entirety of India goes nuts in support of the poor urchin who may win the big prize. It's happened once before -- poor kid wins big riches -- to Prem (Anil Kapoor), the host of the show. Can lightning strike twice? Or are there greater forces at work to ensure that it never does? Of course there are! Indian police arrest Jamal just one question short of the big prize, for allegedly cheating, and their interrogation drives most of the flashbacks that follow.
We get access to said memories thanks to the interrogations of the Indian police: Selling trinkets and other junk on trains between Mumbai and Bombay; faking a life as tour guides at the Taj Mahal; the emotional shredding of forced separation from brother and romantic interest; and some really disturbing story ideas involving the blinding of child beggars ("blind beggars make double") or sale of same into domestic slavery or the difficult choices one brother makes when he chooses a life of organized crime to save his brother.
Long time readers know that we disdain films that deliberately seek to invoke the warm fuzzies. We rave about those that hold our interest and keep you on the edge of your seat; even the ones in Slumdog Millionaire that we almost see coming. We were still surprised and pleased when they hit and play out. If that's a rave (and it is) well, Rave on McCranky.
Or, for those who prefer to do the math . . .
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Slumdog Millionaire, he would have paid . . .
In all the years we have been privy to advanced screenings, whether as a critic or a member of the Directors Guild, we've only seen two in which every seat in the house had a body sitting in it. Ghandi and Titanic didn't need much hype to fill seats. That Slumdog Millionaire managed it is indicative of a strong word of mouth, at least amongst those who get the lucky early screens. We add our endorsement.. It may not be as epic (in length) as the aforementioned flicks, but the story sure is and the feeling you'll get as the end credits roll will be unlike most anything you've gotten from any other movie. Slumdog Millionaire is the first film we've seen in many years that had us on the phone calling friends and family with our recommendation
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