Nominated for Best Picture and widely acclaimed by critics, Slumdog Millionaire is one of few recent releases I wanted to make a point of seeing. As the film is set in India, I expected a cinematographic treat, and was not disappointed; the movie is beautifully filmed.
Going into the theater, I knew Millionaire was about a young man from the slums of Mumbai who has almost won 500 million rupees on India’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. Accordingly, I expected a story about a bright young man overcoming adversity and proving himself in spite of society’s contempt for the poor--a film with a sentiment something along the lines of Good Will Hunting or Finding Forrester.
I realized I was mistaken during the first few minutes of the film. The young man on the game show, Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel) is not particularly intelligent or knowledgeable. He has no special virtues at all, and, in fact, hardly any personality. The reason he has been able to answer so many questions correctly is (as the filmmaker lets the viewer know at the very beginning of the film) that it was fated to be so. This is an intriguing set up, but ultimately fails to deliver.
During the first hour or so, the film’s tension is generated by individual incidents of difficulty or danger, resolving into isolated tragedies or triumphs. In my opinion, it would have been better if the entire film followed this episodic pattern. By trying to tie the incidents together into a larger narrative arc, the film ends up creating a whole which is less than the sum of its parts.
In the second hour of the film, the tension is generated by two questions: “will the boy win the game show?”; and “will the boy get the girl?” The question of whether the boy will win the game show is no more compelling than any given episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. And as for the girl, she hardly seems worth getting, being even flatter in characterization than the boy.
I will not spoil the ending for those who have not seen the film--although nothing creative has been done with the dénouement, as nothing creative (except the cinematography) has been done with the film as a whole--but I will say that in the end, it seems at best odd that Fate would have expended so much energy for so banal an end.
Though I have focused on what I consider Slumdog Millionaire’s faults, in truth, I found the movie fun and entertaining. It may be worth watching (once), but I probably would have been less disappointed with it had I not been led to believe it was one of the best pictures of the year.
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