Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

January 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

Danny Boyle is becoming one of my favourite directors.  28 Days Later and Sunshine are both reviewed here, and like his original hit Trainspotting, they’re both highly original and worthwhile offerings.

His latest is Slumdog Millionaire, which begins with a character originally from the slums of Mumbai named Jamal (Dev Patel) being tortured by police because he’s on his way to winning phenomenal amounts on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” and it’s assumed he’s cheating. The film has a nifty narrative structure, where Jamal explains his ability to answer certain game show questions in a way that also allows him to illustrate parts of his life. Aside from this, the film enjoys a frantic energy in well-edited scenes that carry the viewer along at an impressive pace. As a director, Boyle often has impressive touches — Sunshine (his stab at science-fiction) has flashes of a doomed original crew as a new crew enters their ship and explores.

All the acting is decent, if not outstanding, and if some characters are a little unremarkable it’s easy to forgive while being carried along by such an interesting film. Oddly enough, the game show host emerges as a more memorable character than most, for being as creepily charming as he is secretly abrasive and slimy.

I’m a little torn about the political content of the film, if you can call it that (and stop reading here if you don’t want to know a thing about the ending).  Certainly, the slums are portrayed as a place where human life has little value, and bodies are mangled if it serves a need.  People have nothing, and predators are everywhere.  But it’s all eventually put to the side as the main characters become reasonably successful and a love story develops, with eventual freedom as easy as someone handing you the keys to a car parked nearby.

You can think of it two ways, really: it’s either troubling that people will go out and buy the pop music soundtrack without really stopping to consider what to do about a system that allows for such squalor and misery, or Boyle is using the film as a vehicle to introduce the injustice to a great many people, and make it palatable. I tend to think that the film reaches a compromise on that point — not every character ends up happy (though the happy ending is ultimately dominant), and the first half of the film at least toys with a stronger message, even if that message does ultimately feel put to the side. Slumdog Millionaire ain’t perfect, but it is highly recommended.  Just like any other Danny Boyle film I’ve seen.

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