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"Slumdog Millionaire" ***1/2 (120 minutes)

Wednesday November 12, 2008

Danny Boyle has gone Bollywood! The talented English director who hit the ground running with 1995's critically acclaimed "Trainspotting" and more recently with "Millions", "Sunshine", & "28 Weeks Later", has directed this rousing crowd pleaser which embody many of the same ingredients coming out of the hugely successful Mumbai-based film industry in India. So, expect melodrama by the boatloads and, lively music throughout (although you have to wait until the closing credits to see the requisite dancing by the principals and hundreds of extras that will literally have you bouncing out of your seat with glee as you exit the theater). The film opens in Mumbai in 2006 where we see our 18 year old hero, Jamal Malik (newcomer Dev Patel) in the "hot seat" who is one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India's version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". (I loved the show's host played by Anil Kapoor, by the way. A smarmy version of Regis, who has his own agenda.) Suddenly, the show stops for the night and we see him being whisked away and tortured by the show's security force who believe he's cheated his way to being a possible national hero. You see, Jamal is a slumdog-a kid who has been an impoverished orphan forced to live on the streets of India with his older brother, Salim. How could he possibly know whose picture was on the American hundred dollar bill? A kid who has cheated, lied, and stole his way through life with nothing but street smarts as his only education. How in the world would he get this far in the contest WITHOUT cheating? Danny then proceeds to take us on a wild ride back and forth in time using ingenious editing, gorgeous cinematography, and pounding music that shows the security dudes and us how Jamal came to honestly know the answers-mainly by living them. Well . . . sort of. And it's that "sort of" that is the fun part of the journey as there is more at work here than mere knowledge. Boyle uses multiple actors (who look amazingly like the same character as they age) to play each of the 3 principal slumdogs, and alternates subtitles and English with ease (another Bollywood trait). Although I found the plot to be somewhat predictable and manipulable, overall, this one will have you mesmerized throughout. The winner of the audience award at this year's Toronto Film Festival, I wouldn't be surprised to see this one nominated as Best Picture come Oscar time!

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