Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Slumdog Millionaire"

Rebounding extremely quickly after the undervalued-but-still-not-quite-successful “Sunshine,” Danny Boyle delivers a shot of heartfelt cinematic adrenaline with “Slumdog Millionaire,” the Barack Obama of the 2008 fall movie season (I’ll be neither the first, nor the last, to make that analogy). Don’t be put off by the vaguely unpleasant title – just saying it to my parents made them bristle – and run in the other direction; in doing so, you’d miss one of the more unique, buoyant, universal movies of the year, filled as it is with such a rich tapestry of styles, emotions, and visceral exubence. Showing little elements of each of Boyle’s past films (“Trainspotting,” “Millions,” “28 Days Later,” “The Beach,” “A Life Less Ordinary”) to make one perfect, cohesive whole, the film ultimately defies easy classification, though if pressed, I’d dub it a drama-adventure-fantasy-romance.

The Dickensian tale centers around Mumbai-born Jamal (Dev Patel), a call-center tea servant, who’s somehow made it to the final round of India’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” despite being merely a “slumdog” (i.e. a kid from a slum). The film kicks off with Jamal being arrested before he can answer the final question, and being subsequently tortured and questioned by the police as to how exactly he cheated to make it so far on the show. This is all used as a framing device to tell Jamal’s story, taking us from when he was 7 years old till now, as he has one flashback explanation after another that led him to wear he is now. The structure of the movie (superficially resembling “The Usual Suspects”), allows Boyle to tell all these incredibly compelling mini-stories, ranging from the comic to the tragic, and employing so many different visual and thematic styles. It runs a full two hours, but never stops moving, and pretty much every moment hits on some level, somehow enriching whatever comes next.

I think there’s a good chance “Slumdog” may earn the “crowd-pleaser” slot among the five Best Picture nominees in January, but regardless of potential award riches, it’s just a great “movie” movie (i.e. delivers on just about everything that mainstream audiences go to the movies for) and will likely benefit from colorful word-of-mouth all holiday season long. You’re going to hear the term “crowd-pleaser” applied to this movie quite a bit, and rightfully so, but that expression doesn’t quite do justice to just what this movie delivers. This isn’t an staunchly enjoyable upper, but rather an exciting, occasionally devastating, involving journey that’s always entertaining, but not always easy. There are tragedies and horrors littered throughout (we witness an anti-Muslim massacre, the blinding of young children and child prostitutious, among others), and the movie makes them sting – not just be footnotes along the way – but somehow, through it all, the film retains an effervescent “up” quality that’s infectious.

As patchy an emotional journey it all may be, there’s nicely parsed out humor (an early dive into a pool of human shit is hilarious rather than revolting) and a consistently awesome soundtrack, including multiple M.I.A. songs for those who dig that sort of thing (guilty), to get us through the tougher moments. The movie doesn’t strive for hyperrealism with its occasional knowing embraces of the perfect/convenient and sentimentality, but it’s difficult to quibble with even these moments as they always feel earned, whether by the characters, the film, or us. The movie’s a big believer in fate, and gets us to be too. It’s also a big believer in Bollywood sensibilities, tossing in a pinch here and there, reaching their apex in the irresistible closing credits sequence, the most joyful, transcendant catharsis I can remember in a film in recent years. While I positively adore Boyle’s direction, Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography, and their use of music and visual poetry, “Slumdog Millionaire” mostly won me over by appealing to my most base instincts, putting a lump in my throat, and just thrilling me with its artful manner of entertainment. Get in on the ground floor now, because this is the “little” movie you’ll be hearing about all season long.


Post a Comment

<< Home