Danny Boyle :: UK, India :: 2008 :: 2h
Jamal (played by the British actor Dev Patel) grows up in the slums of Mumbai, scavenging the dumps till a wave of religious violence turns him into an orphan. Together with his ruthless brother Salim and the equally orphaned little Latika (the acting debut for the beautiful Feida Pinto), they are swept along by a Dickens whirlwind of poverty and crime. Jamal and Latika loose sight of one another with Jamal launching himself into everything he can think of to find her back.
Jamal’s character is the only one who is somewhat worked out, curiously enough, for a 2 hour movie. He dominates the story, driven by his determination to find Latika, but in the face of the ugly world, takes on a permanent detachment, a stoic unaffectedness by the events around him. His detachment helps him protect himself, and his sanity. Living on the fringe of the criminal world, he plays at times the petty criminal and at times the victim. As an audience, you want him to get out of this miserable circle he finds himself in, but Jamal is too busy just surviving too occupy himself with some kind of exit strategy.
The cruel world in which the characters find themselves is no surprise coming from director Danny Boyle. He has made a name for himself with violence in film, having started his big screen career with the morbid Shallow Grave and the exceptional cult classic Trainspotting. In both films, the violence serves the dark humour, with the latter film taking on memorably surrealist dimensions. Slumdog Millionaire could certainly have used more dark (or other) humour to ease the tension away from the violent reality in which the characters are placed, to lighten up the whole adventure.
None the less, Slumdog Millionaire is clearly intended as a feel-good movie, in the tradition of British romantic comedies: with love portrayed as a matter of destiny (rather than, for instance, as something that is developed) against all odds. These odds, are uncharacteristically the bath of violence and cruelty which keeps the youngsters apart. There is no mistaking the ‘blockbuster’ signature with plenty of reminders (recap images) for an audience supposedly not paying attention. I half-heartedly recommend the movie for having been set in Mumbai and for putting Dickens into the 21st century, but equally regret that the movie could not provide a little more. Mumbai changes around the characters but unfortunately the formula films, like this one, change too little.