TMN MOVIE REVIEW: Slumdog Millionaire


Perhaps the most amazing thing about the movie Slumdog Millionaire is that it’s playing at Mequon’s Marcus North Shore Cinema. An independent film, set in India, made for around $15 million with no Hollywood star power, is a rare spectacle at this suburban multiplex. Of course, now that this underdog of a movie has earned ten Oscar nominations and tons of money, it qualifies to show next to Kate Hudson’s Wedding Wars and Paul Blart:Mall Cop.
Aside from creating a riveting, moving melodrama, director Danny Boyle has done his audience a great service: he has given us a glimpse into a country and a culture that few Americans ever see – and it’s in a context that is purely entertaining. The most remarkable aspect of current Indian culture – the layers, extremes and dynamics of poverty versus wealth – drives a suspenseful, thrilling story, so there is no trace of a sermon or political diatribe. And there is no danger of boring or offending a Mequon audience with social moralizing. We are simply watching a fantastic tale of a classic underdog surviving and transcending enormous challenges with wit, intelligence and persistence.
We see our hero, Jamal Malik, from so many angles and in so many struggles, his character becomes authentically constructed – we have no need to see movie stars spewing smart-aleck dialogue. His actions and relationships as a small boy, surviving as a homeless orphan with his brother, are consistent with everything he does as an adult. And all of these intricacies of experience, emotion and culture are revealed through an ingenious cinematic gadget: flashbacks driven by questions in a game show and a resulting police interrogation.
With all its layers, perspectives and cinematic sophistication, Slumdog Millionaire is, at its core, a very simple romance. Jamal Malik’s ultimate motivation is to live happily ever after with the girl he fell in love with as a young boy. There is no great complexity of emotion here – little concern is given to chemistry or interpersonal issues. It is the movie romance “leap of faith” – a truth in Hollywood and even more so in Bollywood (which gets another nod late in the film). One might argue that the few moments of superficiality or frivolity are out of place, but in the context of “Slumdog World,” wild contrast seems authentic.
Slumdog Millionaire has already gotten exceptional reviews and huge attention, which can often lead to great expectations and disappointment. But even seeing it well after its release, it was an enormously pleasant surprise, combining disparate worlds and cultures in a story well told and a movie brilliantly constructed.