Monday, December 22, 2008

Film Review: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008, Danny Boyle)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 120 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor
Tag-line: "What does it take to find a lost love? A. Money. B. Luck. C. Smarts. D. Destiny."
Awards: Eight Oscars including Best Picture, Audience Award Austin Film Festival, Best British Independent Film at the British Independent Film Awards, Golden Frog at Camerimage, Audience Award at Chicago International, Nominated for 4 Golden Globes, Best Director from Los Angeles Film Critics, Best Film from the National Board of Review, Nominated for 2 SAG awards, Best Director Southeastern Film Critics Association, People's Choice Award at Toronto International, and it's a frontrunner for many forthcoming awards.

Danny Boyle continues his examination of vast sums of money being bestowed upon unlikely individuals, but unlike some of his previous efforts, like SHALLOW GRAVE or MILLIONS, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE focuses on the process of obtaining it and the backstory that made it possible, rather using the money as a point of departure. Despite an "it is written" framework (with a seriously stacked deck), Dev Patel's Jamal is a Boyle hero that earns his destiny through experience, not chance. SLUMDOG is a very enjoyable and endlessly sincere film, I just find it odd exactly how much award season buzz it seems to be generating. I feel as if people are too afraid to mention that it has more in common with Tony Scott's DOMINO than Boyle's own masterpiece, SHALLOW GRAVE. And it's not that I don't 'get it.' I liked the movie. I understand that Jamal's life has been one long sprint from the start just to survive- to keep his head above water (or feces, in one memorable scene). But is all the shaky cam, whacky frame rate, filters upon filters, pulsating over and underexposure, hovering micro zooms, and vaguely tacky techno really necessary? Boyle's always been a filmmaker with style, but this is over the top.

In the spirit of the film in question, let's play a game. It's called: "which of the following frames come from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and which came from Tony Scott movies?" This should be simple for all you SLUMDOG apologists. Shit, I'll even start out with an easy one:







And you know what? Now you've pissed me off. I'm not even gonna tell you now. Alright, fine, SLUMDOG is A., D., and E. And I didn't even have access to the most egregious, over-the-top shots. Scott's MAN ON FIRE was crucified for less. And Enya-esque wailing to accompany slow-motion sequences of emotional import? Hmm. That was kind of okay in LORD OF THE RINGS, but that was seven years ago. In SLUMDOG, its use made my hair curl. It's also pretty fair to say that about everyone is familiar with the rules to WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE. So it's insulting, when, to rachet up tension and stack the deck even further, characters insist that our hero should "just give it up and take the money- he's crazy not to!" when he still has two life-lines left. But on to the good. It's exceptionally well-acted (I especially enjoyed Anil Kapoor as the sleazy host), and its heart is in the right place. That's certainly enough to make me like it, but before you stick it on the end of the year list, ask yourself what, if anything, makes this different than a feel-good Tony Scott flick?

-Sean Gill

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