Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Well, who wouldnt in this economy, even if the currency in question is rupees and winning the loot means being pegged as a fraud, getting a firsthand education in enhanced interrogation methods? Such is the fate that greets Jamal, the 18-year-old Mumbai street urchin turned game-show contestant at the center of Danny Boyles almost ridiculously ebullient Bollywood-meets-Hollywood concoction. Slumdog Millionaire opens with Jamal (played with terrific chutzpah by newcomer Dev Patel) accused of cheating during his appearance on the local version of Millionaire. Given the third degree by a tough but ultimately decent police inspector (the excellent Irfan Khan) who demands to know how this lowly tea boy could possibly know enough to advance to the shows 20-million-rupee final round, Jamal flashes back over the key events of a life that, quite literally, contains all the answers. The potential for a treacly Good Will Hunting of the Mumbai ghetto abounds, but Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) think more in terms of a minor-scale Dickensian epic about the pull of time and tide on the relationship between Jamal, his artful-dodger brother Salim, and the beautiful, unattainable Latika (Freida Pinto). Slumdog Millionaire whips these familiar raw ingredients into a feverish masala that drenches the screen in the sights and sounds of modern Mumbai. Throughout, the dystopian Boyle resists the natural tug of Slumdog Millionaire toward happily-ever-after territory, yet its that very tension between gritty, street-level reality and escapist fantasy that ultimately makes the film feel even more buoyant and life-affirming.
Starts: Nov. 26. Daily, 2008