Sunday, November 29, 2015

1005. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)


Running Time: 120 Minutes
Directed By: Danny Boyle
Written By: Simon Beaufoy, from the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup
Main Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Madhur Mittal, Irrfan Khan
Click here to view the trailer

FROM RAGS TO RICHES?

I spent a good ten minutes lying here, trying to think up a good subtitle and dozing off in the process. Now, my mouth hangs agape, my eyes glossy and I'm dead tired. The overtime that I put in, in order to get through the Black Friday chaos may have helped to fatten my paycheck, but it did absolutely nothing for my eyelids. Long story short, I'm still trying to recover, catch up on sleep - whatever needs to be done to regain some energy.

I wrote about Slumdog Millionaire five years ago, during a monthly recap post and proclaimed the fact that this played second fiddle to The Curious Case of Bejamin Button to be "yet another laughable moment in the history of the acclaimed Academy (Awards)". I'm pleased to announce that my opinion of the film, overall, has sweetened - yet, I still stand by that statement.

I really loved Anil Kapoor in this and now really want him to actually host a game show. The whole segment where he tries to feed Jamal an answer via the steam in the bathroom mirror....well, no spoilers here, but it's one of the few great scenes in the film.

The main character of the 2008 Best Picture winner is Jamal Malik, whom we see at different stages in his life. However, in present day, he is a grown man (Patel) competing as a contestant on the game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. When we first encounter Jamal, he is being tortured by police officers for suspicion of cheating at the game - for a poor boy from the slums of Mumbai certainly couldn't genuinely carry the knowledge to answer such tough questions. As he is interrogated by police officials, we learn via flashback the story of Jamal Malik, as he explains how he knew the answer to each question, taking us through his life, generation by generation. The film ever so slowly transforms from being about a guy cheating at a game show to being about a boy in love, as we become aware of Jamal's life long love interest, Latika (played by Pinto when the character is an adult) - the very reason he went on the show to begin with.


I find that the longer I take to write a plot synopsis, the stronger I feel about a particular film. If I feel the need to cram in, even insignificant details, then I must think a lot of the production and not wish to mar it by accidentally omitting crucial facts. If I care little about the plot, characters & developments, then I'm more likely to just give you the highlights and get on with it. Which is the case as it pertains to Slumdog Millionaire - a film that, even after a second viewing, I simply can't get 100% behind. I think the big reason is that the film really has two movies going on at once: one about a "slumdog" possibly cheating to win Who Wants to Be a Milloniare and a second story about the romance that escalates between Jamal & Latika and the turmoil that mounts between Jamal & his brother, Salim (Mittal). When we start to receive the flashbacks, it's for the sole purpose of Jamal proving his innocence. Therefore, if you look at it from a storyline standpoint, there's no reason for us to ever get the romance story that existed between Jamal & Latika. Also, isnt' the whole thing a bit TOO contrived? Am I really to believe that every question that Jamal was asked he has a story about? When I watch game shows like that, usually I JUST know the answer - I don't reminisce like an old man remembering when he could get a Snickers for a quarter.

However, I feel like I talk about contrivances way too much. Movies are meant to bend the rules and stories don't always have to make 100%, flawless sense. Sometimes, as long as it's all feasible, it's enough to go on. This was a decent story and a clever one, to boot. When my wife asked me the other day, "what's it about" and I told her, I remember thinking to asking myself why I hadn't liked this one before, because it just SOUNDS like such a good idea: "A guy is accused of cheating on a game show, so via flashback, he tells how he knew each answer". Hell, just reciting it again makes me want to re-add it to my Netflix queue, get it back and watch it again to make sure I didn't miss something.



I mean, don't get me wrong, I liked this one - but to go so far as to call it a "Best" anything or a "must see" something is a little ridiculous, in my opinion. I think a lot of the problem stems from the fact that Danny Boyle may have been the wrong director for this material. When I think of Boyle, I think drugs, tit shots, techno clubs, punk rock music, mohawks, bloody noses, hooligans, beat up leather jackets and of course, Ewan McGregor. What I don't think is romance and I really think Slumdog could have benefited greatly, at least with me, if it had been handled by someone who would've treated the material with a lot less herky jerkiness in regards to the camera and a little more sentimentality as far as the love story. Obviously, this is merely my opinion, as Slumdog Millionaire won the Best Picture for 2008 and clearly, didn't need anything to be different.

In closing, I think most will really like Slumdog Millionaire and for that reason alone, I can't not recommend it. However, if you find yourself agreeing with my reviews A LOT, then it may be that you and I have very similar tastes and therefore, Slumdog may not be up your alley. I think this was always going to be a tough novel to adapt, as it's really a couple of stories rolled into one giant, complex piece. I think a more down to Earth director could have handled the story a little better, as the talents of Danny Boyle should be saved for the more eclectic & electric films, ones that his style can really add to. As it is, I think Slumdog Millionaire had enough of an edge on it's own, without having Danny Boyle aboard to jazz it up even more with things like his signature editing style. I'm really mixed on this one, because on one hand it's a brilliant idea, yet as I watched it, if failed to really grasp me and make me care like I know I should have been caring. But hey, at least it's not the worst Best Picture of the last ten years (see Birdman and/or Argo).

RATING: 6.5/10  For a Best Picture winner, that's pretty low, but I've seen lower winners of the prestigious prize. That's two viewing for this, so I think I can safely file this one in the mediocre bin.

November 29, 2015  6:10pm

4 comments:

  1. Almost nothing to argue about here, other than you came out at the end liking and giving it more than I did.
    Which is not all that fair of me, and I'm really struggling to justify and say I'm not a fan of this one. .. There is nothing really wrong with it as a film. I guess it is well made and put together .. but ..
    Long before the film came out, I heard and was rather captivated by a radio serialisation, so I think I cannot condemn the contrived concept.
    So, OK, it looks like it's a huge coincidence that he just happens to have had a life experience that gave him THE answers he needed. Well, maybe .. but isn't that really how we know almost everything? You could argue that it was just all too neat that .. lets just say ... at one time in his life he handled a gum - a particular make of gun mind - and that question just happened to come up. Oh come on.. True, but we didn't see the .. several thousand... other things in his life where .. lets invent one ..5 years ago he missed a train,, had to wait an hour for the next one, and spent that time reading a newspaper from the bin where the news was a big bus accident in .. and THAT'S how he knew what the capital of Mali was. Believe me, I've pulled many an obscure factual rabbit from my hat at a quiz night myself that way.
    I'm getting distracted, sorry.
    Perhaps I just objected to the 'poverty porn'? The cute 'little brown kids'? (i'm referencing the Ingrid Bergman character in 'Orient Express')The cheesiness? That I felt this was such a manipulative feelgood Spielbergish bit of Hollywood product designed to tickle academy selectors heartstrings?. Look, it kept me mildly entertained when I first saw it, but I've no desire to see it again. So what.

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    1. So I'd call that an agree for us then.

      I get what you're saying about pulling trivia bits from various life situations. But usually when I know the answer to something, I don't recollect HOW I know it, just that I DO know it. I think I'm thinking way too much into it though, so I'll stop harping...

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  2. Interesting take on it, I haven't seen this for a long while but my recollection is that some of the camerawork racing through the slums was quite impressive, and it's certainly the only Bollywood-themed film I've ever even remotely enjoyed, so it gets credit for that. Funnily enough I thought Danny Boyle's frantic directorial style quite suited the story, but broadly I agree with your main points.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Donald. Always nice to hear from you.

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