April 3, 2009

#022: Slumdog Millionaire

Expectations are usually high when going into a film that gets as much praise and hype as Slumdog Millionaire has. This movie is worth watching, but I wouldn't classify it as the best film of the year. Director Danny Boyle brings us the story of Jamaal trying to climb the ladder to 20 million rupees on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. His unlikely success raises suspicions of cheating, requiring him to explain to the cops how he knew the answers. We are shown in flash-backs the harsh childhood that Jamaal has endured. He experienced a string of very memorable events, each one of them providing him with an answer to the very questions he was asked on the game show. In true Danny Boyle fashion the movie is made up of lots of quick cuts and bright colors. It is fast moving and visually impressive, but at times I found it to provide sensory overload with everything that was going on.

Early on in the film we see shots of the Mumbai slums as the children are running from the police... all set to music. These were the moments that really made this film worth watching for me. First off, the music is really good. I enjoyed how the music was used to enhance sequences of the film as they are running around Mumbai or hitching a ride on a train. The shots of the Mumbai slums were sobering, powerful images. These children are growing up in complete poverty, surrounded by horrible conditions. The film forces you to think about what life must have been like for them, creating this strong feeling of empathy. However, that feeling isn't maintained for long as the movie progresses.

The biggest complaint I have about this film is how flat the characters are. For the best picture winner I would expect at least a little depth to the main characters. They are completely one-dimensional; cardboard cutouts of the people they are supposed to represent. I admittedly am on the more "cold-hearted" end of the spectrum, but I didn't care about these people at all. These kids amazingly escape so many situations that it plays more like a fairy tale than real-life events. While these were fun to watch, it caused me to withdraw from that emotional connection I had at the beginning. By the end I was just waiting to see what happened, not really caring if Jamaal won the money or got the girl. This whole film is propped up by a love story between Jamaal and Latika, and I didn't buy it at all. The movie hinges on us believing they are destined to be together, and they are so in love, but there was absolutely no chemistry between them. They are only on screen together for a short amount of time, and their interactions come mostly as small children. What is the reason for this undying love? I just didn't get it. There is a scene where Jamaal comes to Latika after they hadn't seen each other for years. He says, "Let's run away together, right now." Latika responds, "Where will we go? What will we live on?" Jamaal gives her a thoughtful look and responds in a very serious tone... "LOVE." ..................Bleh... it was so corny. They didn't earn that scene. If you are going to have a scene like that you have to give us a reason for it. They barely even know each other, and by the looks of things, Latika isn't all that interested. After the movie is completely over, they do a musical number during the credits. That dancing scene shows us more of a connection between Jamaal and Latika than anything that happened during the actual movie.

Overall I didn't feel the movie lived up to all the hype. I enjoyed the storytelling aspect of it. I liked how they used the device of the game show to go back and show us Jamaal's life. I liked the cinematography, though it did get a bit hectic and messy at times. The downfall of this film for me was the characters' lack of depth. This led to the feeling of everything being so contrived, and sometimes corny. I am probably being harsher on it because of all the praise it has gotten, but I feel it is unworthy of most of it. It is surely worth watching, and had quite a few memorable moments. It was a good movie, but it could have been so much better if more time had been spent letting us form connections with the characters, and letting those characters form connections with one another. Maybe I had set the bar too high, but last year's "best picture" winner is such a better film than this year's.


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