review: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

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The standees in Movies@Dundrum describe Slumdog Millionaire as the “The feel-good film of the decade”… so from the get go I’m worried; I’m not usually into “feel-good” films. Add to that the buzz about this film from the US… There’s nothing wrong with good buzz… but about a “feel-good” film with no associated buzz about the script or the acting… what are the critics buzzing about exactly? Is this just some great PR machine at work? On the other hand this is a Danny Boyle film and imho Danny Boyle is on of the most interesting directors out there at the moment. So I cast aside my trepidation and decided to bask in the buzz. One ticket for the opening night please.

For those who don’t know, Slumdog Millionaire is based on a novel called Q and A by Vikas Swarup. It’s about a boy from the slums of Mumbai, Jamal (played by Dev Patel), who goes on the Indian version of Who Want To Be A Millionaire but is suspected of cheating when he reaches the last question; nobody believes that a kid from the slums could possibly do so well without help.

Is it a good film though? For the most part, yes. It is a good film… but it’s not really a great film… That said, I really enjoyed it, it’s practically impossible not to get caught up in the drama of the story. There’s a reason Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is the most internationally popular TV franchise of all time.. the lights, the music, suspense of it all just draws you in. Danny Boyle is very successful in bring that suspense into the film, you need to know what happened to Jamal, how did he get to this point?

It’s also a great looking film. The cinematography is brilliant, the slight over-saturation really works and there’s some wonderful framing – excellent set pieces in the land and cityscapes. There’s a vibrancy to the film that really sets off the story… It really reminds me of City of God. I’m sure I’m not the first nor will I be the last to say that…

Mentioning City of God brings us to the most important question though… City of God was one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen and it didn’t win an Oscar. So is Slumdog Millionaire worthy of the hype? I’m not sure… I’m loath to say that it isn’t because I think it’s great that a film like this is being brought to a mass audience. I also think it’s great for Danny Boyle and his co-director Loveleen Tandan that they are getting recognition for a great film. Danny Boyle should have been nominated for an Oscar for Trainspotting and 28 Days Later…!. Personally I can’t say if this film is worthy of the Oscar, I haven’t seen the competition so I can’t really comment… but I can say that it’s not without flaws.

I think the most glaring of them is that, in all the excitment, it’s easy to miss that we don’t actually know that much about the characters. There are glimpses at what drives them… but we don’t actually know them outside what is relevant to the story. We don’t know who they are, we just know what they’ve done. I would have liked to have seen more characterisation. Another is that I felt toward the end that we got a bit mixed in what matters… there’s two threads in the story and as they both climax it doesn’t quite manage to keep the momentum for both stories but it doesn’t quite manage to merge them either… It might just be me but there wasn’t the satisfaction in the end that I expected.

The last thing that bothered me about Slumdog Millionaire isn’t really a flaw but I do think it stops it from being a really great film. I thought it was forgettable… and maybe that’s the problem of the feel-good film. There was nothing there for me to think about afterwards. I like to walk out of a theatre thinking about what I’ve just experienced – I might be thinking “What would I have done?” or “How could that have happen?” or I might just be thinking “Wow, the effects in that film were incredible”, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m thinking of it and in this case I wasn’t.

So… how to rate it? I would have loved for this film to be a new classic… which is what the marketeers would have us believe… but I really don’t think it is. I think it’s a good story told well and that might be enough for it to win an Oscar but it’s not enough for me.

7/10

1 Comment

  1. comment-avatar
    AnonymousJanuary 20, 2009 - 11:04 pm

    i reckon it wasnt feel good and they marketed as THE FEEL GOOD FILM OF THE YEAR to counteract the economic mood – who wants to watch a film about a kid from the slums, when we are already quite down?
    i agree a good film, but not excellent, and forgettable.
    Dev Patels success is great though – he’s lapping it up, and you can see he’s lovin it when things like Anne Hathaway on the red carpet behind me come up to him and give him a hug telling him how great his performance was!

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