I’ve seen three of the Best Picture nominees for the Oscars: “Benjamin Button”, “Milk”, and “Slumdog Millionaire”. I probably won’t have time to see the others in time. At any rate, so far I like “Slumdog” the best of all. “Benjamin Button” is hollow emotionally and “Milk” is really good, but what I think “Slumdog” has going for it is your average moviegoer—ie, me—hasn’t seen anything like it this year.
Well, we’ve seen the basic principles of the movie though. A guy grows up in poverty, struggles, falls in love, and maybe finds happiness. What’s different here is that “Slumdog” is set in India. Jamal is a Muslim (a minority in India) who comes from the slums in Mumbai and works as a go-fer at one of those call centers you've probably called before. He rarely went to school, and when he did it was in a classroom the size of a broom closet stuffed with thirty other kids who have to share one book. Yet somehow Jamal is one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.”
The host of the show is so baffled by this development, that when the show breaks for the night, he turns Jamal over to the police, who proceed to torture him in an effort to make him confess how he’s cheating. Instead, Jamal tells the cops how he manages to answer each question—all except one about the flag of India where he used the audience lifeline to answer.
Through this story, we learn about Jamal’s background. His mother was killed in an anti-Muslim riot when he was very young. Afterwards, he and his older brother Salim lived as best they could through begging and petty crimes. (Note if you’re vacationing in India: don’t leave your shoes unattended or trust underage tour guides.) Early on there’s a third member of their crew, a girl named Latika. After she’s separated from the boys, Jamal wants nothing more than to be reunited with her.
There are some in India who complain the movie isn’t fair to their country, but to be fair, this story could have been set in any slum in the world and needed only a change of actors. The story itself is a universal tale of love and rags to riches, which is why a movie about Indian slums can translate to an American moviegoer. The game show element adds a unique way to frame the story, not to mention there’s the suspense like with any good game show of will he win the jackpot or not? I was figuratively on the edge of my seat with anticipation when Jamal answers the final question.
Maybe you think you wouldn’t enjoy this movie, but I think you will because it has all everything you need: romance, drama, suspense, and even a little gunplay. Not to mention a cheesy dance number at the end that’s guaranteed to get the song stuck in your head after you leave the theater. I have to say I left the theater feeling really good, at least for a few minutes. So if you want a fun and uplifting movie, I’d say to watch this one.
Is it the Best Picture of 2008? Well I don’t want to see it six times like another film, but of the ones nominated that I’ve seen, so far it’s the best.
That is all.
(My score: 4/4 stars)(Metacritic score: 86/100)