Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Dev Patel and Freida Pinto. In English and Hindi with English subtitles. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, November 21, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
In Danny Boyle’s colourfully bombastic Slumdog Millionaire, the kitchen sink is hurled at you, trailing turmeric and treacle. The famed Trainspotting engineer isn’t known for his subtlety, and there’s nothing about the Bollywood milieu that invites restraint. So perhaps the hyperbolic writer-director (Millions, 28 Days Later)—here sharing honcho duties with Indian director Loveleen Tandan—can be forgiven for going a tad overboard.
That said, dialing back the hyperkinetic action to 9.5 wouldn’t have hurt this spectacular tale, which combines many film genres and visual styles for a two-hour abusement-park ride that begins with torture and ends with love’s inevitable triumph. Intelligent viewers may respectfully differ on which is more painful to watch.
Both involve the peripatetic fortunes—courtesy of novelist Vikas Swarup and Full Monty screenwriter Simon Beaufoy—of phone-centre chai-getter Jamal (open-faced Brit Dev Patel), who is on the verge of winning 20 million rupees on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. So we learn from the baffled police inspector (Irfan Khan) who strings up Jamal in a dank backroom—how could an impudent, English-speaking slumdog know whose face is on an American hundred-dollar bill without cheating?
By way of an answer, and to every one of the inspector’s questions, we get key points of Jamal’s childhood in the slums of Mumbai, alongside older, more selfish brother Salim. (They’re initially played by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, both terrific). Among other horrors, there’s the murder of his Muslim mother at the hands of Hindu rioters, their abduction by a Fagan-like “orphanage”, and—most significantly—Jamal’s separation from lifelong love Latika (played at first by Rubina Ali).
Later, the grown Salim (Madhur Mittal), now deep in the gangster life, leads Jamal back to Latika (Freida Pinto, far prettier than the role requires). But it’ll take more than good luck and Bollywood music to get these two together. Actually, it will require many repetitive montage sequences, some Scorsese homages, and a raw-sewage swim, at least. Many exhausted viewers will say they enjoyed the journey.