Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

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Sometimes a film's premise can be so original and clever that the list of faults is overshadowed by a propulsive wave of storytelling toward a powerful, even if already predicted, conclusion. Slumdog Millionaire is just that film, the screen adaptation of an Indian novel (Q&A) directed by Indie film vet Danny Boyle. Boyle's most noted works, Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, are intense, dark, and gritty films, but in Slumdog, Boyle translates his intensity behind the camera into a story of hope and determination. Slumdog is centered around Jamal Malik, played masterfully by Dev Patel, and is set on location in India. Jamal is a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" and the film chronicles his life as he answers the questions up to the million dollar question. The hook is that his life experiences inexplicably prepare him to answer increasingly difficult questions despite his treacherous childhood and lack of education. The story is captivating and is one of the most original coming-of-age stories in quite some time, and the way the camera captures the Indian landscape, both desolate and majestic, is breathtaking. The cast is entirely unknown, but includes several great performances, particularly Patel's breakthrough. The story follows Jamal through three time periods, so each main character is portrayed by three different actors, and the child actors are incredible, performing unflinchingly in bizarre situations. Aside from Patel, the stunningly beautiful Freida Pinto stands out as the young-adult version of Jamal's childhood love interest Latika. Slumdog has a fair share of political and social commentary, and at times feels like a thriller, but is essentially a love story. Patel's performance as Jamal, in desperate search of love (Latika) and life (freedom), drives the film through both the good and bad scenes. The story is a breath of fresh air and the locations are original, but at times the film seems to drag. The two hour movie could have easily been 15-20 minutes shorter. Most of the situations seem plausible separately, but the order in which they occur, all to one individual, is beyond unlikely. The last ten minutes are so heartwarming that they overcome the fact that everyone knew exactly how they would happen for the previous ninety minutes. Slumdog is 75% english without subtitles and 25% subtitled. The subtitles are colored according to character, which is a simple but effective touch, but in a few select scenes the accents can make the spoken English difficult to understand. Despite the difficult circumstances Jamal encounters time and time again, the film maintains a strong theme of hope which burns bright in Patel's performance. A completely offbeat music video as the credits roll feels like a slap in the face after a thoughtful conclusion to an emotional film. However, the original framework within which the plot resides, the smart story, and the intimate feel of the direction and cinematography make Slumdog one of the most unique film experiences of the year.

Good for: foreign film fans, fans of romantic dramas

Bad for: the easily bored, those looking for a fluffy film

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