Slumdog Millionaire

Jamal grew up in the slums of Mombai, orphaned at an early age and left with nothing in life but his older brother Salim and childhood friend Latika, from whom Jamal would soon become separated. Yet, somehow, Jamal has grown up and found himself on the television gameshow Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, and even more bizarrely, this barely-educated street rat – currently working as a chai wallah, or tea boy, at a call centre – is doing extremely well, and is a mere single question away from the maximum prize. How did he get so far? And can he make it to the end?  slumdog-millionaire-originalSince I’ve started writing for French Toast Sunday and hosting the Lambcast, my writing output over here has severely dwindled. That was never the plan, but I’m not surprised considering how much I’ve taken on. However, it’s not good, mainly because at the rate I’m going it’s going to be about 50 years or so before I finish the 1001 Movies List, and that’s if no new films get added (wishful thinking). Therefore, when at FTS we announced the Director of the Month series, wherein every month a different director becomes focussed on for the month, I vowed to watch and review every film from that director that appeared on the 1001 List (or any other list I’m going through) within that month. I failed at the very first hurdle – February saw me review David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and nothing else, meaning Fight Club remains un-reviewed by me (I’ve already done Seven, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Zodiac). March served me even more poorly – I watched Wes Anderson’s Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, and wrote 5 Favourite Thing posts for the pair of them over at FTS, but couldn’t find the time for full write-ups over here, and Darren Aronofsky suffered a similar fate with Pi and Black Swan. I’ve been tempted to re-post the lists I’ve written at FTS directly here, but the format doesn’t fit with how I like to do things. The 5 Favourite Things posts are all about the positive, and don’t allow for more discussion on the film’s lower points, so instead I’m making an effort to get my act together and bloody well write something. As such, here’s my review of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, being written a little after the post I wrote for FTS. All being well, there might just be similar reviews written about 28 Days Later and Trainspotting in the near future. No promises though.slumdog_11Slumdog is a film I don’t often think about. I saw it in the cinema, a little after it had received the Best Picture Oscar (along with Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Score, Song and Sound Mixing), and I remember thinking it was very good, but not being blown away. I stand by that opinion, now that I’ve seen it for a second time five years later, as whilst it is a terrific film that I find difficulty faulting in more than a couple of ways, it’s not something I feel the need to revisit time and again, and there isn’t a great deal that really sticks with you. The story is fascinating, taking place predominantly via flashbacks from a holding cell, with the older Jamal (Dev Patel) explaining to the police (Irrfan Khan) exactly how and why he did or didn’t know the answers to the questions on the show. It’s the very definition of episodic – the answers to the questions all came to him in chronological order throughout his life, and are explained chapter by chapter – and this keeps everything moving at a brisk pace, so the film’s 2 hour run time feels about 30 minutes shorter than it actually is.VIDEO_Slumdog_Milli_390803aFor the majority of the film, Jamal is played by Dev Patel, who before this was well known in the UK for starring in Skins, a TV show which also starred Nicholas Hoult. I never saw the show, but semi-hated it on principle, simply because it was about British teenagers, who as a rule generally shouldn’t exist (it’s worth noting that the show originally came out around the time I stopped being a British teenager and became a British 20-something, which I intend to be for as long as possible). Therefore I went into Slumdog with the initial thought that this was the film starring the guy from the show I didn’t like (Hoult was always safe, I’m a fan of About A Boy), so when I came out not only really liking Slumdog, but being impressed by the performance Patel gave, well then that’s testament to the great job he did. It’s a difficult character to pull off – adult Jamal is essentially a lost puppy, desperately searching for his former love Latika (Freida Pinto) whilst still overly relying upon the questionable morals of his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) – yet Patel makes him feel real. His intense nervousness, confusion and timidity when he first appears on the game show all makes perfect sense later in the film, as does the arc he has throughout that very show, turning from a quivering, goggle-eyed wreck into a charismatic, confident player keeping the host on his toes.slumdog_millionaire08And speaking of the host, I absolutely love Anil Kapoor in the film. He plays Prem, the question-master of the show, and he’s the smarmiest, oiliest, most devious game show host there has ever been. The UK version of Millionaire is hosted by Chris Tarrant, whose hosting style – all tension building, cutting to ad breaks and “Are you sure?”-ing – makes me despise him intently, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Prem. This a film with more than it’s fair share of villains – slum rioters, street gang leaders who blind orphans to make more money, abusive mobsters, treacherous older brothers – so the last place you expect to find the biggest villain of them all is sat in the chair opposite from Jamal, on live television working the crowd into a frenzy. Apparently Kapoor is something of a big thing in his native country, but sadly my experience with him starts here and ends with his tiny role in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. As much as I’d like to see more of his work, tugging open the string that is Indian cinema is not something I’m prepared to do as yet; there’s just so darn much of it!Slumdog-Millionaire-0027There’s a masterclass of stylish film-making techniques on display here. The editing is superb, particularly the staccato flick-book style used when Jamal remembers something of particular significance to him – generally Latika in a particularly gorgeous shot. The framing is wonderful, but there’s a little too much Dutch angle for my liking, with almost nothing being shot parallel to the ground. It worked for showcasing the hustle and bustle of Indian life, but at times it felt a little bit like overkill. Also, the character of Salim was a little too changeable from one scene to the next, which helped explain why Jamal finds it so difficult to get a handle on him in terms of trustworthiness, but it left his character unbelievable. Finally, the plot itself is very predictable in the broad strokes. Elements of the climax are set up so blatantly it’s all but impossible not to pick up on them, and I remember when watching the film that I even managed to predict what the final question was going to be on the show (which, by the way, seemed much easier than on the UK version). That being said, the story was full of emotion and, regardless of whether you could tell what was going to happen or not, it was always a joy to watch.

Choose film 8/10

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