Slumdog Millionaire

4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The lifeline. Ask the audience. “Is that your final answer?” The rampant global success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? has less to do with personality (sorry, Regis) than with timeless dramatic principles of suspense and release, risk and reward. And so it goes with Slumdog Millionaire, a simple yet euphoric rags-to-riches drama, one that shoehorns in terror, action and an unusual amount of class politics for mainstream entertainment. It feels about as supercharged as popular moviemaking gets. As 18-year-old Jamal (Patel), born in Mumbai’s harshest ghetto, takes the India game show’s top prize, he is immediately viewed askance by local detectives; their interrogation leads the movie into vibrant flashbacks as each of Jamal’s answers triggers an anecdote from the school of hard knocks.

Bollywood’s melodramatic sweep is an obvious influence on director Danny Boyle, as is Dickens; there’s a long-lost love in waiflike Latika (Pinto) and plenty of Faginesque villainy to go around. Indeed, when childhood chums grow up into helpful hoodlums, you’ll roll your eyes at the preposterousness of it all. But the spirit of the film is so punchy and good-natured, it’s hard to mind, especially when its ultimate point is grounded in intellectual merit. Boyle, directing with the on-site help of India’s Loveleen Tandan, is still widely thought of as the Trainspotting guy: the Britpop-with-a-chaser guy. But Slumdog Millionaire crystallizes a deeper preoccupation, visible all the way back in Boyle’s 1995 feature debut, Shallow Grave, namely the social pressures of instant wealth. We always knew he was about mobility, but it’s actually upward mobility.--Joshua Rothkopf

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