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Danny Boyle's 2008 film, Slumdog Millionaire, tells the story of an 18-year old orphan in the Indian city of Mumbai. Jamal Malik is a homeless desperately poor resident of the teeming slums of one of India's most populated cities. Provided the opportunity to appear as a contestant on India's most popular game show, Jamal surprises everyone by demonstrating a level of knowledge far surpassing his lot in life. Suspicious of how a young adult from his background could possibly answer so many difficult questions without cheating, Jamal is arrested and interrogated by the police. The interrogation provides the opportunity for Boyle to tell Jamal's story of growing up poor and homeless with his older brother, Salim. That story illuminates the development of Jamal's character and the mental agility he developed from having to survive a very difficult childhood -- an agility that helps him conquer the challenges of winning money on a popular television show watched by millions.
Slumdog Millionaire is a beautifully photographed depiction of the world's second largest country -- a country of great wealth, but of also of massive poverty. While the story may seem contrived to some, it makes no pretense to being based on a true story. That it captures the essence of life in Mumbai is sufficient. That it further reminds us of the pitfalls of judging others on the basis of limited information or of prejudices sustained through a centuries-old caste system is the film's great reward. The acting is universally strong, and Boyle's directing another notch in that director's increasingly eclectic filmography, a list that includes Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and 127 Hours -- all stories depicting obstacles (zombies, heroin addiction, having one's arm trapped under an impossibly heavy boulder) and the efforts by the films' leads to overcome them.
While many in India resented the negative portrayal of their country in a film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire nevertheless is a fine film well worth the time.
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