Reviews

Slumdog Millionaire

4

Can a pauper become a prince in modern India? It’s 50-50...

Remember the scene in Trainspotting when Ewan McGregor took a dive into a toilet bowl? Danny Boyle’s come up with something almost as nauseatingly memorable in his latest film – a little boy (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) plunging into a pool of poo in order to extricate himself from a locked Mumbai outhouse.

There hasn’t been anything quite as whiffy on screen since Tim Robbins crawled through a river of shit in The Shawshank Redemption. But in Boyle’s invigorating saga, this early flashback serves as an ideal thumbnail of the resourceful Jamal, an orphan from the slums whose Dickensian ascent through India’s caste-ruled society forms the beating heart of this sprawling, vibrant melodrama.

When we first meet Jamal though, he is an older, 18-year-old teaboy (Skins’ Dev Patel) who has, to the amazement of host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), got all the way to the last question in the subcontinent’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Convinced he must be cheating, the devious presenter has him interrogated by inspector Irfan Khan. Facing torture even Jack Bauer would balk at
(do local coppers really electrocute game show entrants?), Jamal tells his story of hardship, tragedy and freakish good fortune that – coincidentally enough – gave him every answer he needed to get one step away from 20m rupees.

There’s something clunkily obvious in the way each episode in the hero’s rite of passage clicks with the sundry multiple-choicers he’s posed. There’s also one sequence involving a Fagin-esque villain who blinds runaways that perhaps belongs in another, more nightmarish movie.

But Jamal’s love for Latika (Freida Pinto) gives us a sturdy through-line as the film jumps from past to present, Hindi to English and docudrama verité to Bollywood-style spectacle.

Braiding Boyle’s thrilling depiction of a teeming, steaming India and writer Simon Beaufoy’s deft mixture of comedy, romance, drama and suspense, Slumdog is a near-total delight.

Neil Smith

Verdict:

Vivid, moving and breathlessly exciting, this enthralling mingling of fable, travelogue and social commentary sees Danny Boyle at the top of his game. Phone a friend and tell them not to miss it.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • Ray Peterson

      Jan 12th 2009, 13:21

      2

      I saw Slumdog Millionaire last week at a preview and I was thoroughly disappointed. This is clumsy, vacuous Oscar-bait that is only getting attention over here because of its setting and subject matter regardless of the actual content. Set against a backdrop of poverty and violence, the love story which drives the film, while fused with innocence and optimism is equally clunky, insubstantial and never really convincing. This would be easy to overlook if the film's energies were being spent elsewhere, but sadly they're not. Any attempts at tackling those issues that form the backdrop are glossed over quickly making it feel more like a ghost train than a real journey. Perhaps that was Danny Boyle's intention, but the result is that the story rings hollow and the whole thing feels like a wasted opportunity, especially in the light of a film like City of God (a predictable comparison, but no less valid for it), which manages to be both hard-hitting and uplifting at the same time. The casting is woeful and lazy (Dev Patel as a kid from the slums? Daniel Radcliffe would have been more convincing) and the performances verge on pantomime, particularly Anil Kapoor as the oily host and Mahesh Manjrekar as an oafish crime lord straight out of a Z-grade Bollywood potboiler. In fact, it's a wonder that Kapoor doesn't rub his hands and cackle with glee at any point during the film. Only Irfan Khan in the role of a police inspector manages to come out with dignity intact. As if all of this weren't bad enough, the laboured central conceit of coincidence providing Jamal with all the right answers is perhaps the most boneheaded example of deus ex machina outside of Hollywood. In a similar vein, the closing minutes feature a character development so sudden and incongruous it borders on farcical. Yes, yes it's all supposed to be uplifting and life-affirming but it simply comes across as awkward and stupid. Visually, the film is more successful with some spectacular moments that capture Mumbai in all it's chaotic glory and there's no question that Boyle has a flair for the cinematic. But even here Boyle resorts to cliché with a picture postcard shot of a crowd gathered around a TV set outside the Taj Mahal that wouldn't be out of place in a Michael Bay film. And it's perhaps that comparison that is the most damning thing: like Bay's films, Slumdog Millionaire is visually arresting but ultimately empty-headed. But at least with Bay you know the film wasn't pretending to be anything else. Slumdog, however, is like a good-looking sibling who does nothing, yet smiles in the right places and always gets the praise and attention of relatives – frustrating, undeserving and ultimately pointless.

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    • Paulydavies

      Jan 15th 2009, 8:16

      Ray Peterson doesn't know what he's talking about. Stop being so negative. "As if all of this weren't bad enough, the laboured central conceit of coincidence providing Jamal with all the right answers is perhaps the most boneheaded example of deus ex machina outside of Hollywood" This is pretty much what the whole film is about, so why question it? thats like going to watch the lion king and saying "omg, lions can't talk, this is so fake" yeh, its a movie. its not real. idiot. great film, great cast, great everything.

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    • newg123

      Jan 18th 2009, 16:08

      5

      Truly breathtaking film. The first user review is simply wound up over the fact that he doesn't understand what he saw, it flew right over his head and he's bitter about this! The entire movie grabbed and held my attention by its throat and didn't let go. I adored Jamal and Latika, such sympathetic and engaging characters, while the music and camerawork kept the fast pace up. This film was a joy to watch and I would happily see it again and again. I recommended it whole-heartedly.

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    • Chirurgie

      Jan 19th 2009, 2:32

      5

      Superb and sensational film that a true movie lover MUST see. Forget cynical 1st comment above. An amazing film. A minor warning that though 'feel good' in many ways, parts of it are quite 'horrific' (in good movie way that gets to you) which can shock some :)

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    • jamboforever

      Jan 21st 2009, 23:56

      5

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    • Ray Peterson

      Jan 30th 2009, 12:15

      Paulydavies and newg123, you're absolutely right: it went completely over my head and I'm a bitter idiot. Also, the central conceit that the entire narrative hangs on isn't really clumsy at all. How silly of me to express my opinion. But your wise words have set me on the right path. I have learned that I must not question the things that I see, because that's just not the done thing. I have also learned that my opinion may make others uncomfortable, because it doesn't fit with theirs and that they may take my criticisms of a film personally. I have also learned that we should not have intelligent discussion of a film, but instead throw petty insults if someone doesn't like the same things as us. We must fear difference. We must all embrace the same things without thought or question. What was I thinking? I have truly seen the error of my ways.

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    • Luke1268

      Feb 1st 2009, 22:15

      Ray Peterson pretty much summed up everything I felt about the movie. The idea that every question in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire being incidentally connected to Jamal’s outstanding life experiences was just too hard to stomach. Regardless of whether or not other films have very far fetched storylines, Slumdog Millionaire didn’t allow me to get past this barrier. At what point did Jamal’s love for Latika become epic? In my opinion the epic love story was drawn upon too late in the film. The realism that the film tried to portray in its documentary style depictions of the slums was confused when considering this epic love story and the repeated coincidences. Dev Patel being cast a Jamal just didn’t work because we all recognize him as the teenager from Skins which for me highlighted that the director had intentions to create a façade of India that the western audience would recognize. This was another barrier that I didn’t agree with. I agree with Ray Peterson that the casting was fairly lazy. It was patronizing knowing that the film was trying to conform to western stylistic conventions whilst trying to convey the western people through the eyes of Indian people, for example, the western tourists that had their car dismantled. The graphic depictions of the slums were impressive and shocking having not seen such a vivid bird’s eye view of the slums myself. Whilst criticizing western tourists and showing the plight of India’s poor, the film itself was conforming to western cinematic styles! Thus showing how the film was confused in its intentions and how it, being a western film is chasing profit! How ironic! However, from the reactions of other people in the cinema I could tell that my experience of this movie was different to theirs.

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    • James12

      Feb 6th 2009, 15:15

      4

      1st half was amazing, showing the true realities of living in slums of India and the dangers of being young, also still showing it in a light-hearted, innocent way. 2nd half however i believe went slightly far fetched. but still all the same it is a brilliant film, my favourite watch so far this year

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    • avfc4eva

      Feb 14th 2009, 15:34

      3

      Slightly above average. It's good but definitely overated. Doesn't really deserve so much attention.

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    • soprano168

      Feb 15th 2009, 17:13

      2

      Slumdog Millionaire is about a guy that becomes a contestant on Indian version of Who wants to be a millionaire. The film follows his life and shows how he knows the answers. Sadly the film failed to involve me in the story and simply slides into a cliched love story. The riot scene was left unexplored and we as a viewer have no idea of what is really going on and Jamals brother was very badly developed. From the opening 10 minutes it felt like a rehash from city of god and child s****hers segment was not shocking like the foot shooting. Had great potential but was cliched, badly acted in places and simply made me cringe. This puppy needs doggy needs to be put down.

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    • red157

      Feb 15th 2009, 17:45

      4

      Now having only watched it yesterday, my somewhat high opinion of the film will no doubt lessen over time as I think a bit more about Slumdog's many flaws (I've already changed my IMDb rating several times). It's a great yarn that does indeed look beautiful, though that's just as much down to the landscape of India as it is Boyle and Mantle. Call me fickle, but I think it only held my interest to the end as I wanted to see whether the character of Jamal did in fact win the money. I just struggled to care much about anything else. The love story (And many other parts of the film) was let down by weak dialogue and Dev Patel truly wasn't the best incarnation of the character, despite the laudits his performance has recieved. So is it worth the five stars given to it by Empire (And the majority it seems)? I don't think so. In fact, I've possibly only given the fourth star as I'm so impressed Boyle managed to make the film at all (Not the easiest of books to adapt). Still, as 21st century western-produced films set in India (A limited genre, granted) go, Darjeeling Limited is still the only one to recommend.

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    • mrmojo76

      Feb 15th 2009, 22:26

      4

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    • JonR06

      Feb 18th 2009, 18:38

      1

      I went to see this film with my wife. We hated it and she was so upset with some of the scenes we had to leave after 40 minutes. In my view this should have been at least an 18 because of the violence in the first few minutes. Starting the film with the torture sequence – implying Jamal is tortured for winning – does not look like we’re getting a “feel good” ending either. Then to go through a journey of important memories which, during the first 40 minutes, include a 6 year old clambering through human excrement, seeing his mother battered to death. Then being enlisted into a beggar gang who you see, deliberately blinding a small child. Jamals brother throwing a baby between the kids and then a build up to what you can only assume are to be even more horrors. We have never walked out of a film before although I was tempted during the Dark Knight because of the unrelenting violence. With films like Black Hawk Down or Rwanda Hotel you know it's going to be hard to watch in places so you go prepared. With Slumdog we were mislead. Of course IF I wanted to learn what it’s like to live as a beggar in the massive slums of Mumbai then I might watch this from an educational view point. I do know it’s difficult there and there are organisations trying to change lives for the poor in the Indian Slums and I thank God for those organisations and people, but please it’s not entertaining.

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    • lambrusco

      Feb 20th 2009, 23:36

      wow,i created an account just to write this- On Ray Petersons 2nd comment: :)

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    • MartinS

      Mar 6th 2009, 19:00

      I cannot believe some of the stuff I have read in this column. JonR06. I think it is time you realised that most of the world does not conform to your cosy Middle England view of it. The WHOLE POINT of the film is that a kid from the slums should not have been able to answer the questions he was asked. This is the reason why he is accused of cheating. Police brutality in many countries, (especially against the poor and in India the 'Untouchables'), is commonplace. Why do you think we need organisations like Amnesty and others? To compare the violence in SD to a comic book film like the Dark Knight shows a level of naivety which I find astounding. BUT the thing that annoys me most is that someone who has seen only 40 minutes of a film has the audacity to critisise it. As far as the epic love story goes; that thread is throughout the entire film, from the moment they are parted as small children to the final moments. THE ONLY REASON HE GOES ON THE SHOW IS IN THE HOPE THAT THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE WILL SEE HIM. Please people,- listen to the dialogue and try to follow the plot before you slag of the best film I have seen in years, which fully deserved every award it has won. I Thank You!!

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    • joker16

      Mar 8th 2009, 15:12

      1

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    • MikeyRix

      Mar 8th 2009, 20:31

      3

      I saw it recently, and I have to say I was not impressed by it. It was really good up to a certain point (can't remember)...and then it went downhill. 8 Oscars? Really? I'd've given it three out of five and only two Oscars.

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    • aelmo1

      Mar 21st 2009, 11:55

      hahahahahaha i almost walked out of the dark knight because of its unrelenting violence! i take it robocop dosent feature in your dvd collection! people baffle me.....they really do

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    • MartinS

      Apr 10th 2009, 12:59

      Robocop most certainly does NOT feature in my DVD collection but Slumdog will and Bladerunner does!

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    • thekillingjoke

      May 21st 2009, 17:40

      2

      You tell 'em Ray

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    • AMIE2395

      Jun 11th 2009, 20:15

      5

      i saw slumdog millionaire a while ago and i loved it!!!! i thought the actors were brilliant too, it was probably the first film iv ever seen where all of the hype about it had actually been deserved. at the end i had tears in my eyes and loved the way it was filmed by the way it would go to his past throughout that tense who wants to be a millionaire scene. overall i loved it and i was certainly not disapointed!!!:)x

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    • Quaid

      Jun 12th 2009, 7:45

      5

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    • AMIE2395

      Jun 18th 2009, 20:26

      omg what is going on with you jonR06 im sorry but your wife needs to realise that life isnt a fairytale and the violence scenes in it are like play fight in a playground compared to waht you would see in an actual 18 movie!! :\ so this movie shouldnt be an 18 atall!!!

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    • barnabythefilmviewer.blogspot.com

      Jun 19th 2009, 21:29

      5

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    • barnabythefilmviewer.blogspot.com

      Jun 19th 2009, 21:32

      5

      Slumdog Millionaire was the second film I saw at the cinema this year. I'm very pleased to say, it's remained the best. Dev Patel (from Channel 4's Skins), handing in a brilliant performance, plays Jamal, an orphan who grows up to be a teenage contestant on the Indian version of "Who Want to be a Millionaire?". When the authorities accuses him of cheating when he gets one question away from the jackpot, he recalls the past experiences of his life that led him to know the answers to the quiz-game questions. The impressive and colourful direction from Danny Boyle, one of the UK's most exciting filmmakers, is some of the best the big screen has seen for a very long time. His other recent directorial work, Sunshine, looks a little pathetic next to this tour de force, and I'll be surprised if we don't see more of Dev Patel in the near future. A plea to Danny Boyle: please stick with this kind of film - amazing, awe-inspiring and visionary - and lay off the monster stuff. It's obvious which of kind of film you do better.

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    • barnabythefilmviewer.blogspot.com

      Jun 19th 2009, 21:39

      I would also like to say that, although I disagree with his views on the film, I feel Ray Peterson exercised his views very competently and articulately in his first post. From his review, it doesn't seem as if the film past over his head, and he has the right to his own opinion.

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    • Dominc

      Jun 28th 2009, 9:13

      5

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      Aug 30th 2010, 22:44

      5

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    • HardcoreNinja

      Sep 13th 2010, 20:33

      5

      I do think you've missed the point the 'clunky' set up is to tie in with the who wants to be a millionaire formatting, and the blind luck is addressed at the beginning question. It is destiny. Maybe its a little over the top idealistic, but you cant criticise the narrative structure when its made obvious why its being done that way. And as for the blinding orphans, Boyle throughout uses incredible contrasts through his use of colours to emphasise the highs and lows of Jamal's life you cant take the feel good power of the film without delving into the dark parts of indian life.

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    • SteveMcc

      Apr 25th 2011, 22:42

      2

      Were the Academy blinded by beautiful visuals, because apart from the visuals and soundtrack I found myself wondering what the fuss about this film was. The acting is average at best and to call this 'feel good' is a complete mistake. Im going to stop there because I dont think I can add onto the comment from RayPeterson, because thats the same view I had. And at Paulydavies and Newg123 I think youv'e got some nerve to slate someone ealses opinion in such an arrogant and 'know all' fashion. Grow up and see not everyone has the same view

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