The audience that I saw Slumdog Millionaire with applauded rapturously when it ended, so I’m afraid I’m in the minority on this one. Danny Boyle’s latest is a crime/love story set in India. Early in the movie, young Jamal and Salim are orphaned and forced to work as part of a ring of child beggars along with their neighbour Latika. Jamal and Salim manage to escape, but Latika is not so lucky. The boys live hand to mouth, riding the trains and selling whatever they can get their hands on. Jamal is determined to find and rescue Latika; Salim just wants to continue with their life of crime.
Through a series of plot devices, the grown up Jamal ends up as a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, hoping that this will bring him and Latika together for good. He’s one question away from the top prize, but some people are suspicious of how an uneducated kid from the slums could know all the answers. Boyle actually does a nice job of showing us how Jamal’s entire life has been leading up to this final moment of truth, but for me the film is much less than the sum of its many parts. There is a lot of story crammed into the running time, and I think it would have worked much better without the game show as framing device. The Millionaire phenomenon peaked years ago, and I wasn’t a fan even then. And, the scenes of Jamal playing the game drag the movie down much too much.