Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)



Plot Summary: The story of the life of an impoverished Indian teen Jamal Malik, who becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" wins, and is then suspected of cheating.

Danny Boyle is responsible for one of my favourite films of all time; Trainspotting. Since its release in 1996 he has had a respectable career including several genre pieces such as 28 Days Later and Sunshine combined with the occasional quieter piece such as the enjoyable but severely overlooked Millions. However he has never since reached the dizzying heights of Scottish heroin addicts diving into toilet bowls in search for the next hit. Despite the slew of accolades and rave reviews being thrown at it Slumdog Millionaire is no different and is perhaps the director’s worst picture since the mind-numbingly awful farce that was The Beach.

That’s not to the say that this is a bad film because that simply isn’t true. When focusing on Jamal and his brother growing up in an impoverished Mumbai the film works as India’s answer to City of God. It’s gripping, realistically harsh and occasionally humorous depiction of orphans fending for themselves in a city that is as much of a character as anyone in the cast is as satisfying as any other film released in 2008. The films central love story is also hard not to embrace and endures enough twists and turns to warrant its upbeat conclusion. Meanwhile the soundtrack pulses along with a convincing blend of old and new Indian sounds with the occasional track by female artist MIA standing out particularly well.

Unfortunately when the film chooses to focus on the Who Wants to be a Millionaire plot-strand it commits every Hollywood cliché under the sun and suffers heavily for it. The logic to explain Jamal’s considerable intellect is thus; all the questions in the quiz somehow recall his most painful memories growing up as an orphan and as such the answers are forever ingrained in his memory. How is it that these questions are the one’s to be asked of him? The films answer is simple; fate. This plot device is at once a cop-out in order for Jamal to be reunited with his love interest (and the eventual, crowd pleasing happy ending) but also illustrates the films cheesy message; even though people are subjected to horrible events throughout their lives it only serves to better them and in the end, they’ll be rewarded.

This Hollywood melodrama gets worse as the film goes along. During the final moments of the film as we’ve subjected to hoards of the public huddled around electronics shops cheering for Jamal, gangster siblings staging shoot-outs in baths of money and an over-the-top Bollywood inspired dance sequence which runs over the credits. Another problem I had with the film was its use of over-stylised camera work and editing. Boyle insists on using a jerky slow-motion technique during some of the flashback scenes and instead of creating a gritty or realistic atmosphere just looked cheap and awkward. The way the film was edited was also questionable as flashbacks and forwards were blended together in an altogether unconvincing and confusing manner, not to mention several needless jump-cuts utilised.

Melodrama and sentimentalism are things to be appreciated, but they have their place (and indeed limits). Likewise unique and stylised cinema work is something to be praised but in this instance felt cheap and without worth. Perhaps the reason for the film’s success is the current economic climate and maybe people need this type of feel-good film at the moment. Slumdog Millionaire is far from the worst film of the year (that award probably goes to The Hottie & the Nottie) but is also far from the best of year and is somewhat of a missed opportunity from director Danny Boyle.

Final Verdict: 6/10

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