Saturday, November 29, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

While some people think this year has been a bad year for films, I've seen some really fantastic films this year: Let The Right One In, Death In Love, Ponyo, and now, Slumdog Millionaire -- Danny Boyle's best film, at least equal to and perhaps even better than Trainspotting (which is one of my favorite films), and a great film not just in the "Oscar worthy" sense, but also in the "people will still be watching this film in 100 years" sense.

Part love story and part social commentary, Slumdog Millionaire is a postmodern parable, a fast-paced, relentless story about struggling against seemingly insurmountable odds. Based on the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup, it traces the tragic life of Jamal Malik as he attempts to explain to a police inspector how he came to know the answers that led him to 10 million rupees and the upcoming final question on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" This conceit is a brilliant hook, as it provides a tension line -- will Jamal be exonerated by the police, win the money, and get back the girl of his dreams -- that gives the already poignant flashbacks an added sense of urgency, and allows them to succeed in driving the main plot forward rather than seeming like pointless digressions.

The acting is excellent, especially star Dev Patel (adult Jamal) and child actors Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail (as youngest Jamal and his brother Salim, respectively), and Director Danny Boyle creates a sense of time and place that feels very genuine. Despite the fast pace, the editing is masterful, and there is neither staccato cutting nor excessive shakycam in an attempt to give false urgency to boring scenes. There's no need, since there are no boring scenes, and the urgency seems all too real. Sound and music is also carefully integrated, helping to craft both setting and theme, without turning any of the film into a music video (a potential Bollywood "homage" thanfully avoided by Boyle).

Some have given this film negative reviews based on what appears to me to be the flawed belief that any film which shows poor people managing to (even momentarily) be happy despite their circumstances is unrealistic. This leads to the ridiculous claim that this film which depicts squalor, murder, child mutilation, child prostitution, and a litany of other social ills is somehow soft-pedaling poverty -- presumably because it hasn't utterly destroyed the spirit of Jamal and everyone else in his class, and because no enlightened white saviors arrive to set things right and assuage their historical guilt. Since this film is a parable about the indomitability of the human spirit, there is some degree of the fantastic. But that element is restricted almost entirely to the Millionaire conceit and the endgame of Jamal and Latika's romance, rather than whitewashing the depictions of a life of poverty.

If you get a chance to see this film, do so immediately. And hopefully you will have the chance. Fox Searchlight, who showed their marketing prowess with Sideways, Napoleon Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine, and Juno (none of which made under $40M domestic), has inexplicably restricted this film's release to 49 theaters for Thanksgiving Weekend despite the fact that it's pulling in an average of $10,000/weekend night at the theaters it's in. People do want to see this film. It's not a narrow demographic indie film (which I personally like), but a universally appealing, Dickensian story of rags-to-riches fortune, good vs. evil, and true love.


Emma said...

Absolutely! I came out of the theater grinning ear to ear. Energetic and brutal and hopeful.