A Review of “Slumdog Millionaire”

CAPTION:  How long will it be before Dev Patel and Freida Pinto bust out a Bollywood-style dance number?

Not Even Bizarrely Plausible, 8 December 2008
5/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A young call center worker from Mumbai with a rough-and-tumble past named Jamal (a likable Dev Patel) becomes a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in the hopes that his true love (the beautiful Freida Pinto) will see him on TV and come back to him for good. Much of Slumdog Millionaire is done in flashbacks as the audience learns the personal story behind each of the questions. For some strange reason the filmmakers want us to think a person like Jamal wouldn’t normally know the answers to these random trivia questions, but he does because of his unique life story, see? Well, it’s a mildly interesting central conceit that quickly falls apart. At one point, a policeman questioning Jamal remarks that his story is “bizarrely plausible.” I wish I could say I felt the same.

It seems to be a trend this year for movies to contain wildly shifting tones. This is the type of film that thinks it’s endearing and cute when a little Indian boy is given no choice but to dive into a pit of raw sewage to get a chance to meet a movie star, and then tries to be gritty and deadly serious when a man takes out an orphan’s eyes with a spoon so the kid will make more money on the street as a blind urchin. Combining elements of Oliver Twist, Romeo and Juliet and City of God, Danny Boyle and his co-director Loveleen Tandan create a flimsy mosaic of convention and post-modern pastiche. With its sometimes fascinating look at Mumbai and its strange juxtaposition of modernity and immense wealth run amok with the biggest slums on earth, Slumdog Millionaire is not without some intense and keenly interesting vignettes. However, the paper-thin script full of lazy characterizations and arbitrary moments leads to a painfully predictable denouement with a silly message about Destiny.

Boyle is a director whose style has run out of steam. All of his trademarks are here: the shoddy editing; the shaky, grainy digital photography; the hyper-bright lighting that washes out most colors and makes whites and yellows blinding. Why is it I always feel like I’m getting an eye exam when I sit through his films? It left me with a headache that wasn’t helped by the loud soundtrack. Any compelling moment, like the train ride that ends at the Taj Mahal or the early chase scene through the slums of Mumbai, I credit to Boyle’s co-director Tandan.

Slumdog Millionaire is an energetic film I desperately wanted to like. Had it a sharper focus and harder edge that more thoroughly explored just one of the millions of enthralling stories that exist in cities like Mumbai, it could’ve been a rousing success. Instead, with its slapdash enthusiasm that feebly tries to thread some meaning into the barely plausible tale, I’m left thinking that Mumbai deserves a far better film.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1010048/usercomments-73

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9 comments on “A Review of “Slumdog Millionaire”

  1. phillygrrl says:

    Thanks for the appreciation! I love your review of Slumdog Millionaire. I’m curious. How did you find your way to my site?

    -phillygrrl

    Phillygrrl, I was searching WordPress for other reviews of Slumdog and it lead me to your post about the film. –DHS

  2. Sam Juliano says:

    Oh God, David, I couldn’t disagree with you more, and virtually the entire critical establishment (including our very best critics) also disagree with you. This is not only an eclectic, viseral and full-bodied cultural and sociological examination that ranks among the best ever set in India, but it’s also one of the year’s best films, for me ranking with WALL-E, THE VISITOR, DEAR ZACHARY, SYNCHEDOCHE, NEW YORK, THE EDGE OF HEAVEN and THE POOL as one of the best films of the year without doubt. The film’s music, editing and performances are first-rate and it lends complexity to the sometimes breathless and electrifying narrative. I cannot believe you saw the same film as I did, and I can’t fathom you coming to those conclusions.

    Still, we are good friends, and I will continue to be enriched by everything you say, and by your beautifull-written reviews. I wrote my own piece on this weeks back, and as I said, came to different conclusions. But this is what sharing opinions is all about. Your frankness is and will always be an asset and welcome thing.

    Sam, I certainly recognize I am in the minority here, but for me the film was all flash hiding a flimsy central storyline. I didn’t feel I got to know any character or any place in the film in depth, though visually there were some fascinating shots/scenes of Mumbai. Thanks as always for voicing your thoughts. I know many out there feel the same as you do regarding this film. –DHS

  3. Five Dollar Sodas says:

    I have similar thoughts about this year’s most critically darling film. However, I think the “wildly shifting tones” contribute greatly to the upbeat tempo of the film and work well to keep the flashbacks explosive and satisfying. It only detracts from the film in the climax when the Boyle wraps up his story far too neatly for a narrative that focuses so much on failures and disappointment. I felt like it was a train on course to movie greatness that drastically veered off course at its most important moment.

    I was also completely mesmerized by Salim’s last sequence on screen, even though it may have been a little campy…

    It’s been really great reading through some of your stuff, I’m just starting out on the blogging front and am really impressed by the intellectual depth and overall comprehensiveness of your site. Keep up the good work, and check out my Slumdog review if you have a second!

    http://fivedollarsodas.wordpress.com/2008/12/23/an-ending-more-in-tune-with-tone-would-do/

    First, thanks for visiting my blog and an even bigger thanks for the kind words. I’ll be sure to check your blog regularly as your posts are the type of in depth and thoughtful reviews I like to read. It’s always interesting reading what other people think about the same film.

    I had forgotten about the final Salim scene and I find it interesting you should point that out. Oddly, he was the only character that had any kind of development, though it was done with a hacksaw (he’s good–he’s bad–he’s a jokester–he’s bad again–wait, he’s sorry for what he did). His final scene was so cringe-worthy in my mind (and really made no sense other than as some kind of in-your-face visual—oh, look at him in the tub of money!) that I had wiped it from my mind. –DHS

  4. Much as was the case with the film, I’m very late catching on to this post. I have to agree that I think it’s overrated in the extreme, and rather cynical in many ways. It’s got a number of wonderful moments, but overall it just didn’t engage me, and at the very least I expect a Danny Boyle Film to be engaging.

    I like Danny Boyle. In interviews he’s always engaging and inspiring, and he’s certainly not afraid to try different things. He’s humble, smart, compassionate and has got a great feel for atmosphere. But it sometimes feels as if I like him much more than his films, which for the most part seem to feel incomplete: 28 Days Later, which I think is a good film, should have been a great film but wasn’t, for much the same reasons as Slumdog– Boyle sets things up really well, but somehow fumbles. Defeat from the jaws of vistory. 28 Days Later‘s apocalyptic opening is one of my favourite in modern cinema, and promised something really special, but the last half of the film is just ridiculous, and is the only time where I’ve thought the otherwise fantastic Christopher Ecclestone was woefully miscast and out of place. Same with The Beach.

    For me it’s only really Trainspotting that is consistent, but I’ve never been able to truly love it because of the presence of the nauseatingly self-regarding Ewan MacGregor.

    So it’s pleasing to hear someone offer an alternative take to the across the board arse-kissing this film’s received, which for all it’s admirable intentions, passed me by in a blur of eager-to-please tricksiness and sentiment.

    Andrew, I think you are spot on about Boyle. I also seriously think he suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder, which is why I think his films always start out well and then lose focus. I also totally agree with you about Ewan McGregor…I can’t stand him and I think he’s a terrible actor, and some otherwise fine films have been ruined simply by his presence. –DHS

  5. Prakash says:

    “Instead, with its slapdash enthusiasm…that Mumbai deserves a far better film.”

    This was exactly my response too. Mumbai does deserve a far better film. I found Slumdog no different from the typical “formula” Bollywood fare I am fed over here in India. By and large, the Indian film fraternity too was ecstatic, to say the least, about Slumdog’s success going overboard in showering praises on a mediocre film. I feel it was a facade they (Indian film fraternity) put up to gain some exposure and make their presence felt on a global platform (specially the Oscars). Nair’s Salaam Bombay was definitely far superior and humane a tale which I could relate to.

    “”Had it a sharper focus and harder edge…it could’ve been a rousing success.”

    Guess what? Slumdog literally had no focus (I mean, the camera focus too). The camera kept moving so quickly and augmented by the slipshod editing it actually did give me a headache. It left me wondering if this movie needs such “slick” editing in the first place? Boyle should take lessons from Nolan on editing. Nolan used editing to his advantage in Memento to add to the story’s appeal and feel, rather than merely employing it as a “gimmick” to make the movie appear “slick”.

    Prakash, amen to that! I agree with every point you make. Ah….Salaam Bombay…such a great and deeply felt film. Poor Mira Nair’s stock has really bottomed out lately, but that was truly something special. I compare the two films here: https://davethenovelist.wordpress.com/2009/01/31/the-bizarre-appeal-of-slumdog-millionaire/ –DHS

  6. Prakash says:

    Oh yes! I read that too, David. Brilliantly written and rightly said.

    I am not sure if you share similar views on Avatar too. District 9 was way ahead for me. I just saw it after you recommended it in your list. Did you compare these two films – Avatar/District 9? I would love to read your views on such a comparison.

    And thanks once again! For writing such great reviews. Being a small-time, insignificant, and amateur writer myself, I can greatly appreciate your writing style. Also, I’ve not read such meaningful, well-written, and insightful reviews in a long time. Over the past few weeks I realized that our tastes are mostly similar and I am now hooked on to your site and depend on it for making a choice on whether to watch a movie or not. Keep the ink flowing, lots of people, like me, love your work David.

    Regards.
    -Prakash.

    Thanks, Prakash! No, I had not thought to compare Avatar and District 9 yet…but I enjoyed District 9 far more. –DHS

    • Prakash says:

      Oops! Pardon me, I might have committed a faux pas there when I said, “Being a small-time, insignificant, and amateur writer myself…”. The “small-time, insignificant, and amateur” part in that statement applies only to me.

      Prakash, it applies here as well 🙂 No offense taken. –DHS

  7. Susu says:

    I FULLY AGREE that it is a good movie, no doubt about it, but it is highly overrated. If u people like this, there are 100s of other Indian Movies that are made much better than this(Both old and NEW). As for Rahman’s music, it is GREAT (again no doubt). But this is definitely not his best. Pls go hear “dil se” and u’ll know what i am talking about! Compare this movie to previous Oscar winners like American beauty, and well, u’ll know wat i mean.

    Verdict : To everyone who has still not seen the film, It’s definitely a one time watch. Good music,Good story and Good (kind hearted if i may add) cast and crew. But i request you to watch it with an open mind. And by the way, Mumbai is not just a “slum area”.

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