Fans of either British director Danny Boyle or of Bollywood movies will not be disappointed with this uplifting film. Boyle, who gave us Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary , shows his style from the very beginning, when this story of two brothers growing up as orphans in the streets of Mumbai starts with Jamal, played by newcomer Dev Petel, now almost an adult, being brutally interrogated by police about fraud on a game show. They can not believe that a slum orphan would know enough to get the right answers without cheating. The frank and brutal style of Trainspotting is evident throughout this film in tilted camera angles, blurred street montages, quick crowd pans, fast editing, even more trains. Both cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and editor Chris Dickens won well-deserved Oscars®, as the pace and visual style of the entire film are knockouts – it only slows down a little toward the end, giving you a chance to finally catch your breath.
The film begins in the present, then in flashbacks tells the story of Jamal, his brother Salim, and their friend Latika, wonderfully played by six young actors at two age levels when growing up. The story contantly shifts back to the police interrogation, and Jamal's story of how he knows the trivia, each answer being revealed in a flashback. Amil Kapoor is very good as the slick game show host, who is not as charming as he appears on camera. We get occasional glimpses of Latika, a girl the brothers help when all children childhood orphans, and who grows up into the gorgeous Freida Pinto, one of the most stunning actresses ever.
Even though this is a brutal story of crime and survival in the streets (rated R for violence), similar to the Brazilian film City of God, brilliantly directed by Fernando Meirelles, it is still a heartwarming and uplifting story. It shows the darker side of India: religious violence, torture, child abduction, street crime, and child slavery. Basically, all the failures you get from extreme poverty. However, in Jamal, we have a character based on hope and positive self-image, rising above his roots, who turns away from organized crime, continues to fight for survival, and search for his true love.
The film is in English; what little is in Hindi is translated with on-screen balloon examples coming from the character speaking, a novel way to do those. The screenplay adaptation by Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel "Q & A" by Vikas Swarup, was an excellent and won an Oscar®. However, I think the real star of the film is AR Rahman's terrific music, easily one of the best, more memorable film scores in years, winning him two Oscars®. The second was for the song "Jai Ho", shown over a mock Bollywood musical number during the film's closing credits, with the entire cast dancing between trains. Hats off to either Boyle or assistant director Tandan for that terrific sendup, and from a dramatic movie that was hardly musical.
I rarely give out a perfect 10, but this will make the second one for 2008 films, Wall-E being the other. I'm very surprised that Indian co-director Loveleen Tandan did not also receive an Oscar® alongside Danny Boyle. Slumdog swept the Oscars® winning eight: picture, director, adapted screenplay, cinematography, editing, sound, music, and song.