Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

by Steve Habrat

Of all the recent films that managed to snag the Best Picture Oscar, the only one that I really thought was undeserving of the award was Slumdog Millionaire. This is in no way me trying to tear the film apart or declaring to the world I disliked Danny Boyle’s tale about fate. In fact, I actually really loved the film, but I just though that there were better films in 2008. I loved Slumdog Millionaire’s energy, it’s appreciation for life and love, and it’s hero who is putting it all on the line for the girl he loves. Boyle is near the top of my favorite current filmmakers, one who managed to sneak into the main stream, and jumps from genre to genre like a frog jumping from one lily pad to another. You never know where he will land and it’s unbelievably exciting when it is announced that he is making another film. Slumdog Millionaire is perhaps his warmest and fuzziest movie, one that your grandmother can sit down and watch. It’s certainly far from films like 28 Days Later and Sunshine, both polarizing works of art but ones that you probably wouldn’t want to watch with granny. Well, unless it was my grandmother, who will watch basically anything, and yes, she saw Slumdog Millionaire.

Slumdog Millionaire follows eighteen-year-old Jamal Malik (Played by Dev Patel), who has found himself as a contestant of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Jamal is only one question away from a sum of money that will change his life, a life that involved living on the streets. Before he is to answer that final question, Jamal is detained by police and interrogated, the police demanding to know how a kid from the streets is able to answer all of these questions. Jamal recounts a string of memories and events from his childhood that have allowed him to answer the questions. In the memories, he also remembers time he spent with his brother Salim (Played by Madhur Mittal) and Latika (Played by Freida Pinto), a girl who Jamal has been in love with since he met her.

Boyle is the type of director who is just so eager to move his film along, wanting you to get swept up in the zooming story, you practically end up with whiplash by the end. Boyle can’t resist framing images for the audience that are familiar and alien, a trait of his films that are his own cinematic fingerprint. It’s also insanely colorful, a nod to Bollywood films and Indian culture, making Slumdog Millionaire almost seem like an ode to the color wheel rather than a drama. At times, I almost feel like Boyle suffers from ADD, as his films are always so busy. The film’s story is certainly inimitable, putting an updated spin on the rags to riches story that we have all seen and heard before. I think this is what led to the sweep that Slumdog Millionaire had at the Oscars. Slumdog Millionaire was a hip interpretation of the rags to riches tale set to thumping M.I.A. tracks and a lively, hip-hop-py score by A.R. Rahman.

So what is my problem with Slumdog Millionaire winning Best Picture? The short answer is that it was a safe option. It wasn’t threatening to mainstream viewers. Milk turned off the more conservative crowd but I thought it was the second best film of 2009, behind The Dark Knight, which should have been nominated but was ignored. The Reader’s nomination was purchased and everyone knows it. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon were both very bloated, Frost/Nixon being a little too dark to grab the win and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a bit too whimsical at times (I liked them both very much but they were never going to win the gold). But I never thought my spirit was captured during Slumdog Millionaire and while I was moved while I watched it, I wasn’t after it ended. Milk was a film that stuck with me, both in style, message, and performance. Perhaps I just wanted the Academy to be a little bit bolder with their decision. I also think there was some bitterness that year, watching the snobby Academy wave off a film that was as defining as The Dark Knight, a towering achievement in blockbuster filmmaking that will live on much longer than Slumdog Millionaire will. People complained last year about The Social Network not winning even though it was a film that defined the current zeitgeist. The snub of The Dark Knight was much more glaring and troubling, hinting that many individuals of the uptight film community weren’t willing to give it a serious look even though it ended up being the highest grossing movie of 2008.

Enough with my ranting and back to Slumdog Millionaire. Not as fulfilling as I hoped it would be but good none-the-less, Slumdog Millionaire was exotic and a worthy entry in the works of Danny Boyle. In a way, Slumdog Millionaire winning Best Picture felt like a nod that was poorly timed. It was heartwarming to see the happiness and excitement burst forth from Boyle when he received the Best Director award, an enthusiasm that matched the enthusiasm of his films. And yes, I was happy for the clearly blown away cast as they took to the stage to claim their Best Picture award. Boyle will go on to make other great films (127 Hours was great) and I feel like there will be more awards in his future, but in a year where there was better and much more important films, perhaps Slumdog Millionaire shouldn’t have taken both of the major awards. History is history and Slumdog claimed it, something that cannot be changed so all we can do is evaluate the finished film. I hate to sound like a Scrooge but looking at things now, it’s how I feel about the 81st Academy Awards. Slumdog Millioniare is a beautifully made film that was, yes, one of the better films of 2008, but it hasn’t had the lasting impact on the medium of motion pictures that many predicted it would. The film is well worth your time even if it did get caught in the crossfire of a controversial year at the Oscars.

Grade: B+

Slumdog Millionaire is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Advertisements

Posted on February 24, 2012, in REViEW and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Well-put. I agree about The Dark Knight especially. It was astounding, and I couldn’t believe it was passed up like that. I can’t wait for the day that a Blockbuster of that caliber can be nominated and win.

    Great post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: