A vibrant, dynamic adaptation of the novel by Vikram Swarup, "Slumdog Millionaire" became the most talked-about film of the year, riding a wave of popularity to success at the Oscars, where it won Best Picture. Directed by Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting"), the Bollywood/Hollywood film focuses on Jamal (Dev Patel), a young man in India who finds himself on the hotseat in that nation's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?", hosted by Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor).
While the young man has managed to get every question right, a police inspector (Irfan Khan) believes that Jamal has cheated his way towards the top prize. Not merely satisfied to question the lad, the inspector locks Jamal up and resorts to much tougher methods of questioning. This launches the film into a series of flashbacks, as the audience sees how past experiences - most of them harsh -have allowed him to gain the knowledge that has allowed him to succeed at the game.
Jamal's past, as we learn, has not been an easy one: orphaned after his mother was killed in a riot, Jamal and his brother Salim run off, accompanied by their friend, Latika (Rubina Ali). While all three find themselves at a camp for petty criminals run by a brutal man, the two boys eventually escape and their lives head down different paths. However, Jamal never forgot about Latika, who shows up in his life again years later as a beautiful adult (Freida Pinto).
Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle work in much the same style as Boyle's prior efforts, giving "Slumdog Millionaire" a cool, sleek appearance that does a remarkable job portraying the energy found on the streets of the country. Still, there's a fine line that the film walks - while some of the film's stylish, kaleidoscopic visuals achieve a certain beauty and give the film momentum and urgency, there are other moments that start to feel moderately music video-ish.
The performances are mostly terrific, especially Patel and Pinto, who are charming and display a warm, effortless chemistry in their scenes with one another. Kapoor and Khan also provide solid supporting performances. While heart-warming in ways, the picture follows the characters as they go through extremely grim times, and it's the performances from the actors that is a large part of what keeps the film compelling. Additionally, the ending is more than a little predictable, but I still enjoyed the journey thanks to the performances, as well as the work of director Danny Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy.
I'm not sure the dance number at the end of the film was necessary (although it is well-choreographed), but I found the two hours or so that came before it a compelling, well-acted drama about characters trying to stay brave in the face of hardships, going forward on inner strength and their hope for a better tomorrow.
VIDEO: "Slumdog Millionaire" is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) by Fox. The picture was filmed on both film and digital video. The transfer is quite excellent, doing justice to Boyle's sleek, vivid visual style. Sharpness and detail do vary somewhat, but while some scenes look a tad soft, most scenes do display very pleasing levels of definition and clarity.
Some dimly-lit scenes do show some minor grain, but the presentation otherwise generally appeared smooth and clean, with only a couple of slight instances of edge enhancement and no print flaws. Colors appeared earthy and warm, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 (a mixture of English and Hindi, with subtitles.) While the film's sound design is not particularly aggressive, the rear speakers are definitely put to use during quite a few of the outdoor scenes to deliver ambience (with crowd noise, car horns and other city noises), putting viewers into the middle of the streets of Mumbai. Audio quality was fine, with clear, well-recorded dialogue and rich, bassy music.
EXTRAS: Actor Dev Patel and director Danny Boyle provide an audio commentary for the film. The pair deliver an excellent track, offering quite a few insights regarding the production, delving into such topics as the difficulties filming in India on-location, working with local actors, some of the realities of life in India, behind-the-scenes stories and much more. Boyle does most of the talking, enthusiastically chatting about the film throughout the majority of the running time, leaving only a couple of pauses of silence. Producer Christian Carlson and writer Simon Beaufoy offer a second commentary track for the film, as well. While the two aren't exactly as energetic as Boyle, they do provide a decent chat, talking about changes made to the film, the process of adapting the book, the story behind certain scenes and more. The track does have a few gaps of silence, especially in the second half of the film.
"Slumdog Dreams" is a 22-minute documentary that provides an overview of many of the commentary topics, such as casting locals, filming in India, the story and more. It's more than a little promotional in nature, but as these sorts of pieces go, it's not bad - it delivers some enjoyable interviews and behind-the-scenes clips. "Slumdog Cutdown" is essentially the film boiled down to a montage of scenes lasting a little over 5 minutes. We also get a short documentary looking at the making of the toilet sequence, from script-to-screen.
Finally, we get 33 minutes of deleted scenes, "Bombay Liquid Dance" music video, exclusive Indian short film "Manjha" and the film's US and European trailers. The video extras are not presented in HD.
The second disc offers a digital copy of the film for PC/portable device users.
Final Thoughts: "Slumdog Millionaire" is a moving, enjoyable drama, with terrific performances and fine direction from Boyle. The Blu-Ray delivers solid audio/video quality, as well as a reasonably good set of extras. Recommended.
The Film B+