directed by: Danny Boyle
written by: Simon Beaufoy
starring: Dev Patel, Irrfan Kahn, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor
Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is a film that I am trying my best to review objectively (I know...imagine that). Why? Because it's a film that was never going to live up to the monumental hype/hyperbolic reviews it's been getting. I'm also trying to be objective because a dispartiy between crazy, bandwagon reviews and actual film quality should never take away from what is a good film. Make no mistake--Slumdog Millionaire is still a good (if flawed) film.
The film stars Dev Patel as Jamal Malak, a young man from the slums of Mumbai, India who has managed to get a spot as a contestant on the country's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." He answers every question correctly, getting to the final round and further than most doctors, lawyers and all others employed in the cardinal professions. He is arrested and tortured after being accused of fraud. "What could a slumdog know?" asks an interrogating officer, played by A Mighty Heart's Irrfan Kahn. The film uses flashbacks to show that his various experiences in the slums of India (witnessing the death of his mother, hustling with his older brother Salim) have led him to truly know the answer to most of the questions (Spoiler alert.) The film plays as both a fairy tale of sorts and a romantic saga, as Jamal's only reason for being on the show is the tiniest hope that Latika (Freida Pinto), the girl who he loves with whom he has been reunited with and separated from numerous times in his life, might be watching.
Slumdog Millionaire is gorgeously shot and richly acted throughout. Much praise has been heaped upon Dev Patel, who is serviceable here. Not to say that he's bad, but it's not the type of breakthrough performance that needs to be good for the world to go crazy and want to see more (if that makes sense). His performance is rather stiff at times, too mannered with all the hallmarks of "acting" (luckily for him, the film's frenetic editing and whiplash pace distract from this). I also want to note that the other actors playing Jamal at various stages in his life, do just as well, if not better. Particularly Ayush Mahesh Khedekar (pictured right), who plays Jamal from about ages 5 through eight. An incredibly studied, present and lively performance from a very talented young actor, I must say. But this film is by no means a showcase for its actors.
The film's emotional left hook occurs in the final act. How you react to the film's climax and conclusion will greatly inform your reaction to the piece as a whole. Overall, I appreciated it, though it lacked the heartwrenching emotion of City of God (an obvious influence on this film). I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire, but it left me much colder than it probably intended to (though I did really enjoy the VERY ending. Those who have seen the film know what I'm talking about). Much talk (obviously) has been thrown around of Oscar. Slumdog Millionaire will be nominated for best picture. It's simply too big to ignore at this point. Will it win? I don't know. AMPAS voters may take a step back and realize that "It's a fine film sure, but it isn't Danny Boyle's best. And he's not a director we've exactly embraced in the past." Plus, and I know this sounds horrible, but will the AMPAS really award their best picture title to a film about people of color, and totally devoid of any of the few actors of color they've deemed fit to allow into their enclave? Is that too cynical? Maybe it is (Hello, The Last Emperor? Yes, I am aware).