'Slumdog Millionare'

On The Aisle

by Tony Macklin


“Slumdog Millionaire” will win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The Producers Guild selected the film as Best Picture of 2008, and their choice has gone on to win the Oscar 12 out of 19 times.
Not only did “Slumdog” win the Producers’ award, but it followed with Danny Boyle garnering the Directors Guild prize. This is usually a sure harbinger of an Oscar for Best Picture of the Year. Last year’s winners, the Coen brothers, handed Boyle the award.
“Slumdog Millionaire” is a movie that has smitten many viewers. They’ve fallen in love with it as though their fairy godmother beckoned. I’m not one of them. It’s a better-than-average movie, with a likable cast and earnest technical elements, but that doesn’t make it Oscar-worthy. If you’re comfortable with a fairy tale that occasionally tries to be naturalistic, Slumrunt may be for you.
“Slumdog Millionaire” is Charles Dickens-moves-to-India-and-goes-on-television. What a pitch. It’s an independent film on steroids.
“Slumdog Millionaire” is the flashy story of an 18 year-old contestant on the Indian version of the TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
The uneducated but street-smart — yes, we all know that street-smart is better than educated — Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) gets to the final question. But before he is asked the question, they take a break for the night.
Jamal is accused of cheating and is interrogated and tortured by a police inspector (Irfan Khan). Through flashbacks we see how Jamal learned the answers growing up in poverty and filth with his brother in Mumbai. We also witness his falling in love with the young girl Latika (played appealingly as an adult by Frieda Pinto). The movie focuses on Jamal’s romantic pursuit of his childhood friend. Director Boyle has gushed about the love story.
At the climax of the game, when Jamal is to answer the final question, there is a decision that is supposed to be a big surprise. I always cringe when a surprise turns out to be totally predictable and pat. And this does.
Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy is trapped by the novel by Vikas Swarp, which he adapted. It often strains with contrivance.
The best part of “Slumdog Millionaire” is the cast. The kids especially are engaging. Jamal is played by three actors, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Hemant Chheda and the teenager Dev Patel.
Boyle gave his casting director Loveleen Tandan a co-directing credit because her casting was so conducive to the movie’s appeal. Anil Kapoor is effective as the unctuous, arrogant TV host. But ironically if “Slumdog Millionaire” wins the Oscar it will be without a single acting nomination.
Boyle is a whirling dervish, careening breathlessly from game show to squalor to love. He amps up his style to further his broad effects.
The music by A.R. Rahman is a major component, as are the editing by Chris Dickens (any relation?), cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle and the splashing mud of Mumbai.
Boyle is a pepperpot, who directed the provocative “Trainspotting” and “28 Days Later.” His personal energy is infectious, and there’s almost a naivete to his enthusiasm. But enthusiasm only can go so far.
“Slumdog Millionaire” is not a box-office bonanza. Domestically in 12 weeks it had earned a solid $67 million; Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” in just eight weeks had earned $110 million. But its early prospects, its earnings are almost miraculous. Its history is part of its fabled success.
Initially “Slumdog Millionaire” seemed as though it wouldn’t be released to theaters; it seemed it might be headed straight for video.
Warner closed its independent distributor, which was supposed to distribute “Slumdog.” Fortunately, Warner showed the film to Fox Searchlight. The film went to film festivals, Telluride and Toronto. The rest is histrionics.
But despite its flair and sincerity, “Slumdog Millionaire” is basically dime-store psychology and thrift shop plot. I want to phone a friend and warn him.

Categories: Entertainment