Saturday, February 7, 2009

Movie #14: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

I'm a little baffled by the critical backlash SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE seems to be getting. Roger Ebert, in his review of the movie and elsewhere has stated that, "it's now what a movie's about, but how it's about it." That statement defines the appeal of a movie like SLUMDOG. The story may be conventional in its subject matter (rags to riches, boy meets girl, loses girl, gets her back), but Danny Boyle's frenetic execution makes SLUMDOG a breathtaking experience.

By now the story has pretty much been told from every trailer, TV spot, and word of mouth since its opening: Jamal Malik, a poor tea server at a giant call center in Mumbai, India, appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and, in a stunning display quickly rises to 10,000,000 rupees. It's believed he somehow cheated, and is taken into custody where he undergoes torture and interrogation by the police. Over the course of this interrogation, Jamal takes us through his entire life and shows how the events that shaped it helped to answer the questions.

It's all more than a bit coincidental, but Boyle's not interested in reality per se, as least when it comes to the logic of the plot. What he is interested in is the visceral experiences of Jamal, his brother Salim, and the object of Jamal's heart, the beautiful and delicate Latika, set against a Mumbai never before presented in a mainstream film. His fills the screen with lush colors, his signature flashy editing and a pulsing, thunderous score that finds its soul in equal parts traditional Indian melodies and modern industrial noise. Their performances are all good, but Dev Patel as the modern day Jamal is a huge presence, and commands the screen whenever he's on.

Danny Boyle's look moves from picture to picture, and it's incredible that he can choose so many disparate genres (horror, sci-fi, family, drama) and make that style work for the film. If you don't like the pacing and digital flash of his films, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE might not change your mind. But the way it goes about presenting its subjects is a welcome diversion from the slow, uninspiring dramas that usually tackle this type of material.

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