By Andrea Warner
4 stars (out of 5)
This, the newest work of art from co-director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later), is a modern-day fairytale rooted in the vibrant, seemingly mythical world of India. More Grimm Brothers than Mother Goose, Slumdog Millionaire takes traditional fairytale elements (evil people pretending to be nice? Check. Star-crossed romance? Absolutely. Plucky hero? You bet) and creates a compelling human drama that delights and horrifies with equal aplomb.
The slumdog millionaire of the title is Jamal Malik (the wonderful Dev Patel), a chai-tea runner in a call centre (read: lower-caste) and a contestant on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? With each question he’s asked on the show, Jamal’s story unravels — small vignettes in a troubled life that magically supply the answers he needs to get one step closer to winning millions of rupees, and, hopefully, the heart of Latika (Freida Pinto), his childhood friend and a loyal Millionaire viewer.
The film relies heavily on the laziest of story-telling devices: the flashback. And yet, Boyle handles them with such precision, they positively vibrate with energy and purpose. Those flashbacks mostly detail how Jamal and his older brother, the troubled Salim, survive as kids growing up on their own. The circumstances of their adventures are almost always awful, yet the film never loses its sense of humour, nor does it lose sight of the scrappy independence of youth as the boys sneak, steal and swindle a path across India.
Easily one of the best films of the year, Slumdog’s only significant misstep is the rather sudden and extreme rift between the brothers. It’s a plot point that’s hinted at, but arrives so suddenly and so inexplicably, it becomes a jarring — albeit momentary — breakdown in an otherwise brilliant spell.