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The Independent Critic

Dev Patel, Madhur Mittal, Freida Pinto, Irfan Khan, Anil Kapoor
Danny Boyle
Simon Beaufoy based upon novel by Vikas Swarup
Rated R
121 Mins.
Warner Brothers/Fox Searchlight

 "Slumdog Millionaire" Review 
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See this film.

I know. I know. This is out of your comfort zone.

I understand. Really.

A film set in India? Starring largely Indian actors?

It may be hard to believe, but "Slumdog Millionaire" will be the best holiday film released this Christmas.

No, it's not ABOUT Christmas. Heck, there's not even a reference to Christmas in the film.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is, however, an unabashedly sentimental, affirming, inspirational and spirited film in which dreams do come true and fantasies intertwine with often harsh realities.

It is written.

Directed by the Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting," "28 Days Later"), "Slumdog Millionaire" is the best film yet from a director who has yet to make a bad film.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is the story of an Indian teenager named Jamal, a "slumdog" or uneducated and lowly caste Indian, who finds himself on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" facing the final question for 20 million rupees.

The film that blossoms over the course of the next two hours unfolds masterfully as equal parts social commentary, epic romance, dark comedy, action flick, musical and complete and utter fantasy.

Adapted from Vikas Swarup's novel "Q&A" by Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire" journeys through the lives of Jamal, his elder brother Salim and, of course, the girl of his affection, Latika.

Each key character is seen first as a small child, then as a middling 13-year-old trying to survive and, finally, as young adults late in their teens each having chosen different paths.

We spend the most time with 18-year-old Jamal (British TV star Dev Patel), the young man who has seemingly transcended his humble beginnings much to the skepticism of the snarky game show host (Anil Kapoor) and the police investigator (Irfan Khan) charged with torturing him until he confesses to cheating on the show.

How did a lad of such humble beginnings, who works as a chai wallah (ie, tea server) gain the knowledge that may land him 20 million rupees?

Tis' the beauty of "Slumdog Millionaire" watching it unfold.

Frighteningly, beautifully, masterfully "Slumdog Millionaire" reveals the story of how it is Jamal's life of humility and humiliation, violence and overcoming that has given him the knowledge required to transcend his harsh realities.

The episodes that are revealed before our eyes are at times disturbing, especially early scenes that eerily reflect recent events in Mumbai.

Yet, Boyle beautifully paces "Slumdog Millionaire" in such a way that we understand Jamal's sense of hope because we too feel it. While no one will mistake "Slumdog Millionaire" for "It's a Wonderful Life," Boyle allows Jamal's romanticism, sense of hope and optimism to permeate every inch of the screen even as he endures unimaginable obstacles throughout his life.

There are moments in "Slumdog Millionaire," beautifully photographed by Anthony Dod Mantle, that are among the most visually arresting scenes captured on film this year. The city of Mumbai, tragically in the news for actions not far removed from those scene in this film, is both tenderly and monstrously brought to life through Boyle's direction, Mantle's larger than life lensing and Beaufoy's stellar character development and dialogue.

From a childhood attack on their village that left the "three musketeers" orphaned to their harrowing experiences at the hands of a not so kindly orphanage director (Ankur Vikal) who makes Fagin look like Mister Rogers, we begin to see how Jamal, Salim and Latika are growing up.

Jamal is a dreamer, a kind soul whose compassion somehow remains intact.

Salim (played by Madhur Mittal as a young adult) is the wounded soul seduced by the promise of a power and control he did not have as a child.

Latika (model Freida Pinto) is practical. She is beautiful, yet her practicality tells her that her beauty is a way to transcend her humble beginnings.

As "Slumdog Millionaire" continues to whirl around the screen, these characters will dance around these identities yet their essential truths will remain the same.

As "Slumdog Millionaire" winds down, it loses just a touch of its magical lustre and fairy tale feeling. Salim becomes, perhaps, a bit of an unconvincing caricature in his increasingly gangster persona and the action dissolves, slightly, into a typical action flick until Boyle vibrantly rejuvenates the proceedings again in the film's waning moments and with the final, electrifying perfect touch.

The trio of lead actors are all strong, with Patel already receiving an award from the National Board of Review for "Best Breakthrough Performer," on top of the film's NBR "Best Picture" Award.

His scenes with Latika, as a child and as a young adult, are surprisingly innocent even when the two are surrounded by despair and chaos.

The remainder of the supporting cast shines, as well, and the film's tech credits are uniformly exceptional.

While I'm not quite ready to call "Slumdog Millionaire" one of my Top 5 films in 2008, it's such a beautifully rendered film that I'll not be disappointed when it receives its expected Oscar nomination.

Leave your comfort zone behind.

Skip "Four Christmases."

Forget about "Punisher."

If you're looking for a true, authentic and heartfelt holiday experience..."Slumdog Millionaire" is the perfect film for adults this Christmas.

That is my final answer.

by Richard Propes
Copyright 2008