Rating: 2 stars (out of 4)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Directed by Danny Boyle, with co-direction by Loveleen Tandan. Written by Simon Beaufoy. Based upon the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup. Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Irrfan Khan, and Anil Kapoor. Rated R for some violence, disturbing images, and language. Running time: 120 minutes.
Much like its plucky hero, Slumdog Millionaire overcame impossible odds on its way to glory. Early in its production, it looked doubtful that Slumdog would even be released to theaters, let alone front-runner for Best Picture. Despite mostly British backing, Slumdog paid homage to Bollywood while invoking classic Hollywood.
The film begins with Jamal Malik, a poor tea-server from Mumbai, one question away from the ultimate prize of India’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” program. But the host suspects him of cheating—how else could a “slumdog” advance so far? Brutally interrogated by police, Jamal recalls how each question ties into a key moment of his life.
Director Danny Boyle and company conceive the narrative as a lurid fairy-tale, full of saturated colors and boundless energy. And while the film certainly has the visual flair we’ve come to expect from Boyle, its script never rises above fantasy melodrama, and a rather implausible one at that. From its central conceit to nearly every character reunion, the film depends upon a heaping suspension of disbelief. Its excuse always seems to be “destiny” (Jamal even states it outright) but it feels more like narrative convenience.
I don’t mean to say the film is unskillfully made, but it gets so caught up in its own momentum that it doesn’t have much else to offer. Some have likened the film to Oliver Twist, but there’s no Fagin or Bill Sikes to be found here. The film is too busy zipping across rooftops or weaving through alleyways to stop and develop character. The cast do their best with the script, but even with a strong turn from Dev Patel as Jamal, they never transcend the material.
Slumdog never bored me necessarily, but its earnestness tried my patience. Its heart is in the right place; I just think a city as culturally rich as Mumbai deserves more than a wish-fulfilling pipe dream.
Next film: The Hurt Locker, 2009