The Story of Jamal is one in a Million
9 times out of 10 I dislike the more recent movies which get an inordinate amount of praise, those which seem to be extolled by everyone and their dog with out really appreciating what makes a great movie, which explains why for so long I avoided watching Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire". Thankfully "Slumdog Millionaire" is one of those few times where I am wrong as it is a glorious movie, a cleverly crafted love story which sucks you in and keeps you glued to every second till the credits roll and we get the crowd pleasing "Jai Ho". In fact it is more than just a love story, it is a thriller which is beautifully acted and finished off with some stunning camera work making probably one of the best movies from the first decade of the 21st century.
Having grown up on the streets of Mumbai, Jama Malik (Dev Patel) is on the verge of greatness as he is just one question away from winning the big prize on India's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". But as the show ends for the night before he gets to that question he must wait another 24 hours, another uncomfortable 24 hours as he is arrested and accused of cheating. To prove his innocence Jamal tells the story of his life growing up on the streets with his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and the love of his life Latika (Freida Pinto) with each section explaining how he came to know the answer to a question on the show. But will they believe that he is telling the truth and allow him to answer that final question.
Right from the outset "Slumdog Millionaire" draws you in with Jamal suffering torture which would make Mel Gibson wince. It makes us question what is happening as on one hand we have this kid who we know is winning big money on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" but then we see him being tortured. It causes us to try and work out where in the time line the torture comes and who is doing it. Of course it soon becomes clear as we learn that Jamal is being accused of cheating and so has to prove to those trying to get the truth that he isn't.
What is marvellous is how we basically get Jamal telling his captors all about his life growing up as a slum kid with his brother and Latika who he befriends whilst tying it into how he knew the answers such as who's on an American $100 bill. It's so well crafted that whilst "Slumdog Millionaire" starts being about the quiz show it morphs into this story of Jamal's life, the betrayal of his brother and his enduring love of Latika. And it sucks you in as you become 100% immersed in Jamal's life story and how he went from a slum kid to working in a call centre.
Because "Slumdog Millionaire" sucks you in it becomes exciting because firstly you wonder whether he will convince his inquisitors that he is telling the truth. Then it gets you as to whether he will answer the final question correctly and win 20,000,000 rupees but more importantly whether he and Latika will ever be united as he so desires. What is quite amusing is that for those who have watched other movies will wonder during his retelling of his life whether this is a play on "The Usual Suspects" and in fact Jamal is a master liar. But the overall thing is that it is so well written and directed that it literally sucks you in 100% into Jamal's life and makes us champion him even more when we learn that he's on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" not because he wants to win but he knows where ever Latika is she will be watching.
On that note as the storyline morphs to eventually focusing on the love story I have to say it is brilliant. There is a real sweetness to this side without it being corny or saccharine which makes us warm to both Jamal and Latika making us hope that they are finally reunited.
With the exception of Anil Kapoor who plays the wickedly devious host of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" the cast have little experience but put in performances so perfect that you would think they were old hands. Frieda Pinto in her first movie plays it perfectly as Latika giving us vulnerability but with an inner strength whilst Madhur Mittal delivers a mix of anger and jealousy as Salim. But "Slumdog Millionaire" is very much the story of Jamal and as such it is Dev Patel's performance which helps take it to another level. For the main character Patel plays Jamal with such restraint making him a hero but not an over the top hero just someone so focussed on one thing that nothing will stop him. It's a perfect performance from someone whose previous acting experience was on TV.
What this all boils down to is that "Slumdog Millionaire" truly is not only a great movie but also worthy of all the hype and praise it received when it came out in 2008. It's wonderfully crafted so that it draws you in to this thrilling story of Jamal's life and his enduring love of Latika interweaving it so it continually links back to how he knew the answers on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". From the script through to the camerawork, the direction and the acting it really doesn't put a foot wrong as it runs at a perfect pace for the duration of its 2 hour length.