An 18-year-old street-smart orphan boy (British actor Dev Patel in his feature film debut) from the slums of Bombay (officially renamed Mumbai in 1996) with no formal education is one correct answer away from winning more money than he could ever dream of, but his real motivation is to find the girl (the gorgeous Frieda Pinto) from his youth whom he truly loved and lost.
This romantic drama is a fascinating survival tale. Loosely based on the novel "Q & A" by Vikas Swarup, the movie is splendidly directed by Danny Boyle ("Millions" and "28 Days Later") from an intelligently written adapted screenplay authored by Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty").
This exhilarating movie stretches the bounds of imagination, spinning a magical tale. It shows how powerful an impact the love of cinema has on our lives. Our fascination with game shows and readily identifying with contestants on the hot seat is the elixir drawing your attention to the screen.
With an estimated 90 million people in India watching, Jamal (Patel), a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" is on the verge of winning a staggering 20 million rupees.
When the show breaks for the night, the slimy host Prem Kumar (Bollywood star Anil Kapoor), who wears a sparkling silk sport coat with metallic thread, thinks Jamal has been cheating. He has him arrested and taken into custody by a tough and sadistic police detective (Irfan Khan from "The Namesake and "A Mighty Heart").
Jamal is interrogated and tortured. In an effort to prove his innocence, he recalls his life experiences growing up alongside his opportunistic older brother Salim.
Significant events along the way are the key to where he learned the answers to the questions posed.
After witnessing their mother being killed by an anti-Muslim extremist gang, the two siblings go on the run and hook up with Latika, a young girl about their same age. They refer to themselves as the three musketeers. They are given food and shelter by a Fagin-style villain with ulterior motives for the children. This is where the boys get separated from Latika.
The movie is a mouth-watering travelogue that takes audiences around the country with a kaleidoscope of fantastical images. The Taj Mahal is featured in several key scenes involving unsuspecting tourists.
The three main roles of Jamal, Salim and Latika are played at different ages by different actors. All of these young actors give believable performances and make you care deeply about them.
The original score mixes traditional Indian music with more familiar-sounding pop songs. This movie holds you in suspense and on the edge of your seat. Boyle’s distinctive style of rapid-fire editing, loud music and flashing back and forth to the past and present without losing continuity has yielded the most creative and unusual movie of the year. It has to be regarded as his magnum opus.
This mesmerizing storybook tale will put a lump in your throat and bring tears of joyful celebration. It will remind you of "City of God" and "The Kite Runner," but its life-affirming message ups the ante.
The dialogue is partially in Hindi with short, easy-to-read English subtitles. Be sure to stay for the surprise during the end credits.
It is your destiny to see for yourself why critics are jumping on the bandwagon and awards are piling up for this hard-to-resist oxymoron title.
This is one of the best movies of 2008. Now playing exclusively at Glenwood Arts, AMC Studio 30 and the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen, "The Movie Guy"