Yes, this movie is as good as you've heard.
I want to be careful about how I write here- because I just finished watching a movie in which great care has been invested. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is 75% harsh reality and one quarter fable. Set in current-day India, this film follows a young man's wayward path to being a contestant on "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire." The concept sounds like a gimmick, and it could have easily been so were it not for a brilliant narrative. For each question the "slumdog" Jamal has posed to him, there is a story from his past behind the answer. And the sum of his life is the real story here- a childhood of brutality, lawlessness and inexplicable hope.
Jamal and his brother, Salim, are Muslim youths who wander throughout a country with no shelter. They, along with their only other friend, Latika, improvise constantly in order to survive. I will not ruin the movie by getting into specifics. I strongly urge you to watch this and discover the film for yourself.
I will say that the acting is flawless. The film covers these "three musketeers" throughout their lives, thus employing the use of several actors. The child actors are actually the most compelling performers. A good portion of the film follows these characters in their early years, which was a risky choice that worked out very well. Without these flashbacks, the story would not have any deep emotional content. I didn't feel like I was watching a movie. I was completely immersed in the story.
There are a lot of subtle things going on here as well- between Jamal feigning a proper English accent while moonlighting as a tour guide at the Taj Majal for the benefit of the Western tourists, to the skeptical police detective's "interview" with Jamal that guided the majority of the film. Each scene feels like a look into what really takes place in certain parts of India.
But the fable aspect of the film works too. Jamal is an agent of hope, but he's not a foolish optimist. He has a destiny, to save his true love, Latika. But, like most people, he doesn't have a plan. Instead, Jamal observes everything around him and reacts according to instinct. And his instincts are not contrived. Conceptually, this movie is on such thin ice that one "Hollywood" convention would betray the whole effort. There's a difference between things conveniently falling into place and events happening for a reason. And because it consistently goes for the latter, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a success.