Review: Slumdog Millionaire

…directed by Danny Boyle, written by Simon Beaufoy & Vikas Swarup, starring Dev Patel, Saurabh Shukla, and Freida Pinto.

As we watched Slumdog Millionaire this past weekend, I couldn’t help thinking about the current economic recession in this country.  We have CEOs complaining about $500,000 salary cap to take Federal money; we have a spend-our-way-out-of-it mentality; our poor people are obese.  Then you look at India.  Even through the lens of a movie like Slumdog, a romantic drama that doesn’t want the harsher aspects of reality to intrude upon the story, you see what poverty and desperation are all about.

Not that this movie is a depressing maudlin sanctimony-fest — far from it.  Slumdog Millionaire is first and foremost a classic Hollywood film:  an underdog story with a heavy doses of romance, sharp wit and comedy.  It’s kind of like quizshow Rocky in Mumbai.  The story follows the life of Jamal, a poor Muslim kid from the slums who’s made it the Indian version of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire show.  The questions he’s asked link back to episodes in his life, surviving the streets with his brother and the little girl he falls in love with, Latika.  The storytelling formula, use of tropes, etc. are straight out of the Writer’s Workshop Handbook.  The setting is mostly the raw belly of India.  And director, Danny Boyle pulls few punches.

It’s a very good movie, worthy of much of the adulation it’s received.  If you go and watch it, I defy you to defend your claim you didn’t like it.  Yes, some of the stark realities of abject poverty will bother people.  Yes, the formulaic narrative structure will bother others.  But Slumdog Millionaire is the kind of film everyone likes.  It’s also very timely.  What with the whole hope/change mantra we’ve all been hearing, the economic problems, here’s a film that’s both uplifting and a reminder of how good you have it in the good ol’ US of A.  Maybe that’s why it’s been winning so many awards.

If I could offer some slight criticism it would be this:  the movie does shy away from the very worst aspect of the most desperate – and that’s the sexual exploitation of children.  While it’s strongly implied in a few key scenes, Boyle deftly avoids it.  Probably a wise move to keep the appeal of the flim as broad as posible, but also a little disingenuous.  The other problem I have goes back to the concept of Romantic Love as portrayed here.  Specifically, that you can fall in love with someone after spending a few months together when you’re six or seven years old.  Not saying it can’t happen but…  Finally, the Scorsese-style inter-cutting and slow-mo at the very end was a bit much.

Still, given the other Oscar nominees, we hope Slumdog Millionaire wins.  Strong performances all around and a movie you should see if you can.

That said, it’s not as good as The Dark Knight.

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