A film review by Craig J. Koban
2008, R, 120 mins.
2008, R, 120 mins.
Jamal Malik (older): Dev Patel / Latika (older): Freida Pinto
/ Salim Malik (older): Madhur Mittal / Prem: Anil Kapoor /
Inspector: Irrfan Khan / Jamal (middle): Tanay Hemant Chheda /
Latika (middle): Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar / Salim (middle): Ashutosh
Lobo Gajiwala / Jamal (youngest): Ayush Mahesh Khedekar / Latika
(youngest): Rubina Ali / Salim (youngest): Azharuddin Mohammed
In English with Hindi dialogue.
Boyle has certainly made a distinct name for himself as a skilled and
fearsomely ambitious filmmaker, ready to tackle just about any type of
subject matter and theme. The
resume alone for this British/Irish-Catholic director speaks volumes: From
his potent and effective 1994 debut film SHALLOW GRAVE to his stylish and
surreal drug trip effort TRAINSPOTTING to his zombified 28 DAYS LATER to
his family friendly MILLIONS from 2004
to his recent sci-fi space epic SUNSHINE,
Boyle has more than revealed his unbridled passion for not remaking the
same film twice. Even some of
his more loathsome failures – like his muddled and confused A LIFE LESS
ORDINARY and his wrongheaded THE BEACH – don’t totally distract his
natural talents for making aesthetically confident films.
Even if those efforts failed to appeal on a story level, his
ability at creating a headstrong visual momentum for his films are
undeniable. Oftentimes, they
work as primal visceral experiences.
think that SLUMMDOG MILLIONAIRE is one of these kinds of films.
It’s certainly unlike anything the director has ever attempted
before and throughout its running time it fosters an unthinkable level of
pure, out of body escapism. Co-directed by Loveleen Tandan (who perhaps is rather unfairly
uncredited here), written by Simon Beaufoy (THE FULL MONTY), which in turn
was adapted from the Boeke Prize winning Indian novel, Q and A, by author
and diplomat Vikas Swarup, the film is set in India and tells the frequently
moving – if not a bit too simplistically manipulative – story
of a young and very uneducated man that comes form the Dharavi slums of
Mumbai who ends up being on his country’s version of Who Wants To Be a
Millionaire?. While on the
show he achieves the impossible by exceeding every viewer’s expectations
with his innate and extraordinary ability to answer the most difficult of
questions, which unavoidably has the game’s host and law enforcement
officials suspecting that he is a fraud.
Ultimately, his appearance on the game show is done less out of
financial glory and more out of deep emotional needs: By
being on the show he hopes that it will attract the attention of a young woman that he
has loved for his entire life, but has been irreversibly separated from
him due to vicious circumstances.
MILLIONAIRE is a film where
its influences can be easily observed.
It's more obvious reflections of commercial Hindu cinema
(especially, at one very key moment, the Bollywood musical) is deeply
himself has revealed that he has also been an embracer of movies that have
a distinctive Mumbai sensibility, ones that particularly provide a dark
and dreary portal into the Mumbai underworld, which displayed the
violence, corruption, and urban chaos typified there. The latter element can certainly be seen throughout SLUMDOG
and the film's first half or so is a searing and evocative expose on the
incredible poverty-stricken areas of the nation where children and their
respective families live a hellish ordeal of strife and meager
subsistence. One of the
film’s unqualified triumphs is how it does such an extraordinary job of
immersing viewers in this foreign land, which never once feels like the
byproduct of soundstages, special effects or computer tinkering.
Much like landmark works that were astounding for their realism and
sense of stunning immediacy (like CITY OF GOD and THE
CONSTANT GARDENER), SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is an utterly breathtaking
visual odyssey where you feel truly transported to its settings.
The manner with which Boyle and company make such use of compelling
Indian locations is one of the film’s greatest wonders: you rarely find
yourself doubting their veracity or integrity.
from the film’s masterful production values, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is
self-effacingly steeped in romanticism.
Boyle straddles two distinct hemispheres here: The movie begins
with such gut-retching harshness, so much so that when it does make the
transition to be an uplifting and audience clamoring romantic fable about
the perseverance of the heart and how anyone – no matter how
impoverished – can overcome all odds and find true love, it’s hard not
to stand and joyously cheer. By
the time the film reaches its conclusion, which culminates in a blissful,
carefree, and jovial large scale Bollywood musical/dance number, SLUMDOG
MILLIONAIRE has all but cemented itself as the feel good film of 2008,
which is kind of extraordinary considering the intense and horrific
moments of heart-rending tragedy that have occurred before.
What began as a film with dreary and depressing Dickensian
overtones about depressing poverty and despair morphs into a love
conquers all allegory that shows the power of guileless determination
and passion. The film, as a
result, is certainly anything but subtle – and perhaps a bit too
naïve and idealistic for its own good– but it never apologizes for its
dreamer in question in the film is Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), once a poor
slum boy from Mumbai who finds himself at the center of the media
spotlight when it becomes apparent that he is going to walk away with the
largest prize for completing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
The film is told largely in flashback form, showing most of his 20
years from impoverished “slumdog” all the way up to the events that
led to his fateful appearance on the show.
He certainly is a very “special” contestant, seeing as he
possesses no formal education, but is able to correctly answer the most
obscure of questions, which helps to quickly cement himself as a cultural
and national hero. At one
point he has achieved the impossible by earning 10 million rupees and just
when it appears that he is going to take the biggest chance of his life
and go for the grand prize, the show immediately breaks for the evening
and sets itself to return the following day.
Unfortunately for Jamal, the seedy and unscrupulous game show host
has him arrested on suspicion of cheating by the local authorities.
The vigilant Jamal does not reveal – at first – how he knew all of the answers, even while logic points out to his guilt. Faced with this, the officers begin to torture the poor lad (which, no doubt, gave the film it’s unnecessary R rating; it’s not graphic, but intense, not too much so to earn the film anything above a PG-13). Jamal eventually does agree to tell his side of the story and – through various flashback points – he reveals how he was able to correctly answer all of those questions though hints dropped throughout his life. The film then weaves and interweaves through his experiences, largely connected with two other integral people in his life: his violent prone and cruel brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal) and the love of his life, Latika (the exquisitely luminous Frieda Pinto).
early childhood life was typified by a brutal and barbaric existence on
the streets, but as he grows older with his brother he goes from orphaned
street kid to petty thief to impostor and eventually to survivor.
His entire upbringing, largely void of any adult presence, is kind
of miraculous made up and improvised on the fly, often showing what a
defiant and good-natured soul he was even during the worst hardships.
This leads him on various treks through India, from the dilapidated
streets of Mumbai to the beauty and pageantry of the Taj Mahal and
eventually to the seedy and deplorable Mumbai underworld, which allows him
to reconnect with Latika after years of searching for her.
We bare witness to all of this, and his various dire experiences
shows just how he is able to answer all of those tough Millionaire
questions. As the film makes
its way to its final act, it almost becomes less about him winning fame
and fortune and more about whether Jamal will final get the girl and live
happily ever after.
there is one thing that SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE does effortlessly
then it is - as stated - its flawless and remarkably realized production
design and breathless and energetic direction by Danny Boyle.
The director uses starling cinematography, breakneck editing (but
not in that kind of Michael Bay, queasy-cam style of excess) and combines
all of that with a rip-roaring and explosive music track that gels
together to drive the film’s narrative momentum with a forceful and
dynamic propulsion. The film is patiently and precisely constructed,
but it rushes by without hesitation or regret and never stops to catch its
breath. Using astonishing
hand held digital cameras – which gives us such a kinetic and alive
viewpoint of the minuscule details of the alleys and corners of Mumbai - Boyle
crafts such a sense of head strong and lighting fast intimacy to the
proceedings. A.R. Rahman’s
lively and boisterous hip hop soundtrack and Chris Dickens’ potent and
vivacious editing compliments this as well and the end result is a
beautifully constructed movie experience that lets you feel every sweeping
bit of action, romance, and drama that punctuates the film. Few films this year have had such power with aggressively
luring me into their worlds with a hypnotic-like grip.
MILLIONAIRE is a film that has been dogged by controversy, some of it
deservedly so. For starters,
there was a minor uproar during the announcement of the 66th Golden Globes
when a campaign was started to demand that Loveleen Tanden, who Danny
Boyle appointed as co-director, be deemed eligible as a co-nominee (she would
later gracefully allow her name to be taken off of the production as to
not taint it, a classy and selfless artistic move if there ever was one).
And then there were reports of the treatment of some of the child
actors (Rubina Alie and Azharuddin Ismail, who played Latika and Ismail as
children) were apparently paid between £500 and £1700 for
an entire year’s salary. Reports
have stated that the two economically depressed youth still live in
makeshifts shacks in the slums of Bandra.
Boyle and the producers have stated, on record, that trust funds
have been set up for the children, which would go towards their education,
but exact numbers for some inexplicable reason are a mystery. This
is a somewhat sad and unfortunate footnote to the production on the whole.
other criticism – which I happen to adhere to in some respects – is
that SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE has perpetuated western-fuelled stereotypes about
poverty and economic depression in India (which have had some calling it
"slum voyeurism”). Granted,
there are some inescapable truths to the types of conditions that the film
rightfully portrays, but there are some troublesome issues with whether or
not using these real world extremes is exploitative for the sake of
telling a conventional, Hollywood-styled romantic picture.
Even when the film was seeing a limited release in November of 2008
- with images of terrorists attacking a hotel in Mumbai beeming through TV
sets around the world - screenwriter Simon Beaufoy was noted for
expressing doubts as to whether or not the film was a “rather naïve
vision of Mumbai."
of the largest problems with SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is its rather cavalier
disregard to dealing with the harsher political and religious strife that
taints India. Yes, the film
yearns to be an uplifting and heart-warming parable about overcoming
dreadful societal odds, but there are occasions in the film where its
idealized vision of love and romance all but neuters any sense of it
dealing with some of its thorny and polarizing socio-political issues.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE uses strife and poverty to boost the
destiny-centric storyline, which is a bit counterproductive.
We have, in some instances, would-be moments of shocking outrage
and violence that are kind of pathetically reduced to something
unwholesomely vague (just consider an early scene of a bloody and chaotic
riot – which claims the life of one key figure close to Jamal – where
the most that the film achieves at religious political commentary is one
of the crazy zealots in the mob literally shouting, “They’re
Muslims…get ‘em!”). There
is nothing inherently wrong with delivering a consequence-free and
apolitical film about hope and determination, but when one tries to do
that while using real life catastrophes and unimaginable
heartache…there’s just something unfeeling and insensitive
about the approach. Certainly,
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE could have achieved a feel good status by still having
the time to seriously comment on the underprivileged and devastating
physical and social conditions its characters live in.
film is a crowd-pleasing entertainment, I guess, and one those levels it
definitely does not disappoint. The
film reeks of uplift and warm sentimentality, perhaps so much so that it
manages to smother all of the deplorable brutality, sexual abuse, immense
poverty, etc.. that personifies the first half of the film.
Despite its approach at going to foreign and exotic locales and
using an inventive narrative approaches, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE has an ending
as conventional as any Hollywood romantic dramedy. The film’s preponderance on the overwhelming power of
personal destiny, at times, seems somewhat heavy-handed, not to mention
that the reasons provided for Salam’s unbelievable ability to answer all
of those Millionaire questions seem tainted by head-shaking
contrivances and coincidences. Further to that is the film’s panicky rush to its happily
ever after ending, which is assisted by an incredulous and
late-breaking change of heart by one main character that lacks anything in
the way of plausible motivation. The
manner this person has an extremely quick change of heart –
considering all of his past indiscretions – never once seems believable,
which further makes the climax feel more manufactured.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a film with an unbelievable history: Before Fox Searchlight came to the film’s rescue after its positive festival circuit with the necessary funding for promotion and release, there were palpable fears that it may never even see the light of day beyond a direct-to-video release. This ultimate tale of an underdog looking for love emerged late in 2008 as an underdog Oscar nominee and it now looks looks poised to walk away with some serious Golden hardware come the third week of February. The film most definitely has several merits (wonderful character performances, richly textured direction, a real sense of transcending realism to its settings) and is easily the kind of Oscar bait that the Academy loves (real life struggles and tragedies set amidst a tale of human perseverance and ultimately personal triumph). Boyle’s film undoubtedly has found a resonating cord with audience members as well, as its heavily romanticized aura is the stuff of lay filmgoer appreciation. I deeply appreciated and respected SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE’s astonishing visual flourishes and, more than ever, feel that Danny Boyle has cemented himself as one of the most technically savvy and enterprising filmmakers of his generation.
If you look closely and peal back the layers of the film’s obvious flaws, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE still is a wonderfully evocative, frequently affecting and hard-to-resist inspirational fairy tale…but it’s nonetheless a slight and somewhat trivialized film experience, especially considering its glamorized and uncomplicated outlook at its impoverished settings and barbaric reality based themes...not to mention all of the recent and rampant hype the film has garnered.