Slumdog Millionaire (UK/USA; 120 min.)


directed by: Danny Boyle; Loveleen Tanden
starring: Dev Patel; Anil Kapoor; Saurabh Shukla; Freida Pinto
Slumdog Millionaire
 

Gil and Amanda say: "Winner of the Cadillac People’s Choice Award! A young Indian man, who grew up in the slums of Mumbai, becomes a finalist on the TV show, 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.' Due to his background and upbringing, the authorities question the young man as they assume he has been cheating. During their interrogation, we learn about the boy’s life and how he came to learn the answers to the questions. Brilliant direction and screenplay by director Danny Boyle (TRAINSPOTTING) and Simon Beaufoy (THE FULL MONTY). Q&A with director Boyle, actors Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, and screenwriter Beaufoy. 5 cats

"Seen at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival"

 
Bruce says: "SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is Danny Boyle’s shamelessly commercial pop-culture fairytale about a young Muslim boy, Jamal Malik, who is on the verge of going all the way on the Indian version of 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.' Returning to the relentless churning style of TRAINSPOTTING, Boyle intersperses the suspense of the game show with the history of two brothers and a neighbor girl who become orphaned at early ages when their Muslim neighborhood is attacked by Hindi thugs. The two boys, Jamal and Salim, both are attracted to Latika. Salim is driven by lust and Jamal, by love.

"Each of the questions in 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' evokes a remembrance from Jamal’s past that holds the correct answer. Flashbacks reveal more challenges and greater travails than one could find in most Indiana Jones films. As young children, the 'three musketeers' - as the kids call themselves - are lured into an orphanage that is a thinly disguised slavery operation. The ruthless leaders blind and cripple the children so than can earn more begging on the streets. The kids escape but Latika is eventually captured. Jamal never stops looking for her and he readily admits that the only reason he became a contestant on the game show was in hope that Latika would see him on television.

"The film begins by posing a multiple choice question to the viewer as to how an uneducated boy such as Jamal, a chai-wallah, could possibly hold answers to a series of questions (all the way to the 1 million level) that would trip most Indian scholars at the lower levels, say 60K. The choices ask: a) did Jamal cheat b) is Jamal lucky; c) is he a genius, or d) is it written. Boyle is not satisfied with a simple back and forth of the game show and the painful encounters of the children as they escape one dreadful fate after another; he also uses the device of an interrogation after Jamal is arrested by the police in a brutal attempt to prove that he is cheating.

"It is nearly impossible to make a film in India that is not flavorful because the cultural components and the geography are inherently cinematic; yet much credit must be given to Mark Digby’s production design and to Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography both of which are dazzling. While I admire way the film cuts back and forth in telling the story, the editing choices near the film’s end hit the viewer over the head by making redundant statements which have become abundantly obvious during the film’s journey. The intention, no doubt, is to reinforce; however, this particular redundancy sends the insulting message that the audience is incapable of remembering the film’s defining moments.

"Dev Patel is wonderful in the role of the lovestruck Jamal, slumdog millionaire. Other casting is more stereotyped and a Bollywood flavor is ever present throughout. In the end, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is two hours of great fun more than it is a serious social commentary. 4 cats"

Toni responds: "Excellent review with details of the film! 

"I think the film is certainly worth a watch, especially as you mentioned, the visuals and editing and overall creativity (and colorful, moving subtitle choices) are quite fascinating.

"I think the last ¼ of the film is where it really lost its steam, after the haunting scene with the 100 dollar bill.

"This was no DEVIL'S BACKBONE or ANNIE for that matter.  However, I thought it brought it was a creative use of cinema and bring India to the rest of the world.  I really loved the scenes when Jamal is a 'tour guide' and says something like 'this is the real India.'  The actor playing young Jamal really has some great performances.  I thought the use of MIA’s 'Paper Planes' was good in the train scenes but it way too loud when it and any of the songs played.

"I think folks should give the film a shot and but most will admit the 1st  two thirds are much better than the last third of the film so perhaps they needed plan a different ending than getting everything which was so implausible…I prefer the bittersweet to the sugar sweet for endings."

Julie responds: "I agree with Toni and  Bruce. I can see Michael and Scott's point of view as well! I will just add that : Yes- The music/train scenes were painfully loud ! but I  think the theatre could have  adjusted for this somewhat  (esp since alot of the quieter parts were subtitled) but  the sound was clearly disjointed between these parts - Too bad as I loved some of the music mixed with the scenery / cinematography.
I believe that noone except Bruce mentioned the disturbing XXX violence in  this movie or I would never have watched it! It's taken  me awhile to wipe out one or two particular scenes from my mind that I'd rather forget.

"The movie did have it's merits as well as issues as pointed out by all above - Worth a watch, but bring earplugs .... 3.8 cats"

 
Michael says: "When I see a film that is unabashedly sentimental, even sappy, and I like it, I often say, 'Those characters worked for that happy ending. They deserved it.' I was never really sure just what I meant by that phrase, or whether it was just an excuse to defend my reasoning for falling prey to the emotional manipulations of a commercial film. After seeing Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, a film whose happy ending is so undeserving, whose plot manipulations are so hollow and empty, I’ve come to truly understand the meaning of my thinking. Boyle’s film focuses on Jamal, a young orphan growing up in the slums of Dubai. After surviving the indignities and horrors of his childhood, including the tragic death of his mother that leaves him and his brother, Samil orphans, Jamal makes his way on the TV show, ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” not to make a fortune, but to find Latika, the young woman he has loved his entire life. When Jamal finds himself on the cusp of taking the top cash prize, he is given over to the authorities, who brutally interrogate him because they think he is cheating. As Jamal recounts the story of his life to the police, we see him meet Latika the night his mother is killed and how along with his brother, the ‘three musketeers’ as they dub themselves, survive the harsh life of orphans in Dubai. When Jamal is betrayed and separated from Samil and Latika, it is years before he is working as a ‘chai-wallah’ bringing tea to cell-phone salesworkers and finds his opportunity to be on the game show that his beloved Latika enjoyed watching.

"Boyle is a skilled director, and the film kicks off with the in-your-face immediacy of 28 DAYS LATER. After that Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy decide that silly things like showing how Jamal and Latika fall in love; or why Samil repents; or other important character moments are bothersome, so just expect us to accept these things. It is this kind of sloppy writing that mar SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and make its shameless sentiment undeserving. It’s as if Boyle is trying to make a Bollywood film without the singing and dancing, which is a shame. If he had just let go and made a true Bollywood-style film, we might have had a big, enjoyable spectacle. Instead I found myself trapped in two hours of frenetic cliché that didn’t make me smile until the dance number over the closing credits. 1 cat"

Gil responds: "While it has been a few months since I saw the film, I recall that when I saw SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE in Toronto, I was impressed as to how it surpassed my expectations. The premise of the film is arguably a bit hokey – a young man, who has grown up as an orphan on the streets of Mumbai, is on the verge of winning millions on India’s version of 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.' And in doing so, he may just get his chance to reconnect with his long-lost love. In embracing the film, the viewer must be willing to accept the fantasy/feel-good element of the story.

"However, director Danny Boyle utilizes his skills as a filmmaker to draw the viewer into the world of modern-day India and the larger-than-life experiences of the main characters. From the beautiful score to the amazing cinematography, to the final Bollywood-style dance number, the story resonated that much more with me.

"Now, I admit that seeing SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE in Toronto enhanced my experience of the film. It was only the second time that the film had been screened in public, and it was apparent that the director, screenwriter, main actor, and actress were surprised and overwhelmed with the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction to the film. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment and frankly, that’s part of the reason that I attend film festivals, especially Toronto.

"But when I look back on the film, I am especially impressed that the filmmakers were able to construct a film that has proven to be accessible to such a wide audience – not just to the arthouse audience but to people who would not typically want to see a film about orphans growing up on the streets of Mumbai. Serious social issue films can be hard to watch. When I screened films for the Boston Latino International Film Festival, I would often come across great films that would address difficult subject matters such as poverty and crime. Unfortunately, it could be difficult to get people to come see these films as the subject matter would turn off a large portion of the audience who weren’t interested in that type of cinematic experience. With Slumdog Millionaire, I found that these tough topics were addressed yet the story still succeeded in entertaining me.

I must mention that one of the more interesting debates on Slumdog Millionaire has been between Boston Globe film critics Ty Burr and Wesley Morris. To check it out, go to: http://www.truveo.com/Take-2-Globe-review-of-Slumdog-Millionaire/id/3938009036

Michael responds: "That was an interesting debate between Ty and Wesley, although I disagree with both of them, because I clearly disliked the film more than Ty, and Wesley loved it. Looking at the scenes from the film in this clip does force me to admit that visually the film is very well done. Boyle is nothing if not a visual stylist. Where I take offense is in the emotional shorthand.

Ty, who remember, didn't really like the film, admits that 'the emotional resonance rings true' for him, and that is the single largest issue I have with the film. There is NO emotional resonance in this film. Everything emotional is told with cheap shorthand, and we are expected to accept that the two main characters love each other. We're certainly never shown them falling in love. We're expected to accept a certain plot development with the main character's brother near the film's end which totally rang false for me. Wesley calls this a fairy tale, but at least in a Hollywood fairy tale, they actually manipulate your emotions. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE has no emotional impact whatsoever.

Gil mentions the final Bollywood-style dance number, and there we can agree. I think it was the first time the film let itself have some genuine fun. I think if the entire film had been told as a Bollywood-style production, I would have LOVED it. Instead Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (who I think is the real culprit here) try to graft some serious issues onto an otherwise empty, puff piece of celluloid. It just doesn't work for me."

 
Scot says: "After all the discussion of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and overhearing Ty Burr talk about the 'emotional resonance' in the video Michael just watched, I feel moved to weigh in.

"SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a fairy tale. Right? I mean, Danny Boyle will agree with me on that. But it's a fairy tale we've heard over and over to the point that it's cliche and, well, hackneyed. Not that that's always bad. A good filmmaker can retell a classic fable, myth, or folk/fairy tale so that we *care* about the characters and what happens to them. But this film? FAIL.

"Take the classic-est of all fairy tales -- Cinderella. Have you ever read the Grimm version, directly translated? (Yeah, I know there are other versions, but go with me on this.) It's just a statement of circumstances that follow in a logical order with a moral at the end: "The meek shall inherit," or something like that. But admit it. You don't give a crap about Cinderella. You don't think, "Oh good that her stepsisters learned their lesson by getting their eyes pecked out at her wedding." Jeez, no one even has a *name* except for the protagonist. The characters are symbols whose only purpose is to illustrate the theme or the moral. I mean, really. Do you feel pangs of pity and sorrow when you are told in the very beginning that Cinderella "worked till she was weary she had no bed?" No. It's just a fact, a set up for the payoff.

"Of course, Cinderella can be told more movingly than the Grimms told it. I care about Disney's princess-in-training because I get to watch her sing to the birds and express her gratitude to the gay rodent dressmakers, Jaq and Gus Gus. Julie Andrews, Leslie Ann Warren, and/or Brandy have all those fantastic Rogers and Hammerstein songs to express their inner hopes and fears. Even Gemma Craven raises Cinderella above a mere representation in THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE.

"[VERY MINOR SPOILER COMING]

"But what of Jamal? Why should I care about him? Because the screenplay and director tell me he's hopelessly in love with... oh, whats-her-name? (See, I don't even care what her name is. She's just the object of affection.) Yeah, lots of bad things happen to him in his life. Boyle could have added a scene of him picking a pot of lentils strewn in the ashes of the fireplace too and I'd still yawn. And his brother? Am I supposed to give a rat's ass that he has a big turn around at the end for no apparent reason? Pish. I'm pretty sure he still burns in hell. We all know the only reason that happens is to achieve the ending that the screenwiter had in mind from the very beginning.

"So that's it, as far as I'm concerned. MILLIONAIRE is just a bunch of storytelling shortcuts we've become accustomed to since Mom told us our first bedtime story. I expect more from film.

"1 cat for some pretty images and unintentional giggles."

 
Carolyn says: "I don't think I liked the story-telling device used, but it may have worked/been the best way to tell such a story.  It is a dark but colorful tale and when the end credits roll you can't help but chuckle. 3.5 cats"