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Slumdog Millionaire

On Saturday, I saw Slumdog Millionaire, a film that's been earning a lot of attention. Perhaps even deservingly.

If you're not familiar with the idea, the film takes place over a two day period, where its protagonist, Jamal (Dev Patel), is taken into police custody after appearing on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and working his way to the final question. Beaten within the opening moments of the film, Jamal is accused of cheating, of knowing the answers, and the film, using a technique that does, at times, feel forced, weaves backflashes in between the questions on the show and those put forth by the police, showing how he came to know them. At the same time, it also details his childhood, his relationship with his brother, Salim, and an orphan girl, Latika. It will become clear, throughout the film, that Jamal has gone on the show not to win the money, but rather to gain the attention of the latter, who is living with a crime lord. What exactly he plans to do once he has her attention is a bit unclear and, unfortunately, the details of Latika's life are also a bit sketchy. You're never quite sure how she ends up being the trophy wife of the gangster, or just how imprisoned she is there (never mind why she would actually care for a man that she hasn't seen since she was fourteen or so). You can piece together such things, but the film, to my mind, never gives her any real room to breath.

For the most part, however, the film is actually quite good. The early scenes with Jamal and Salim growing up in the slums are quite evocative, and the kids in the roll quite likeable, to the point, actually, that you could argue that the younger Jamal is somewhat more charismatic that the older ones. But still, from the early scenes in the out-house, to their time with the beggers, and the knowledge that blind singers earn twice as much, the film keeps moving along quite well, and the slight force that comes from linking these parts to the questions asked in the game show didn't truly bother me. In fact, the truth is, the more I watched the film, the more its faults ceased to bother me. For a while I was worried that I had actually finally broken down, and was willing to accept any piece of trash as it was now, but ultimately I came back to the conclusion that I was simply engaged by the film for its entire length. Even though I kind of doubted the adult relationship, I wanted the two to get together in the end, and I wanted Jamal to get the money, and to show up the show's smug, and all knowing host, aptly played by Prem Kumar. Yeah, it's truth that Salim's characterisation suffers, as does Latika's, and there's a big time jump after Jamal is first reunited with the latter, but to be honest, these are nothing new for a film made by Danny Boyle. From Sunshine to 28 Days Later to Trainspotting, ends have never been a strong point for Boyle, and it appears that it is no different when he shares co-directing credits with Loveleen Tandan.

At any rate, if you haven't seen it, it's worth the time.



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Feb. 16th, 2009 04:15 am (UTC)
I think Prem Kumar is the name of the character, not the actor, who is Anil Kapoor
Feb. 16th, 2009 08:26 am (UTC)
imdb lied to me, it seems.
Feb. 16th, 2009 06:03 am (UTC)
The more I think about it, the more I see it as a modern-day take on Dickens -- Oliver Twist in particular. It's got the orphan's rise from slums to riches (split over multiple characters), the coincidences, the melodrama, the neat ending bringing justice for all. That's in no way a bad thing; I've got a soft spot for Dickens despite his flaws, and I loved Slumdog. It was definitely one of the better movies I saw last year.
Feb. 16th, 2009 08:27 am (UTC)
yeah, suppose i could see that. i did enjoy the dance number at the end as well.
Feb. 16th, 2009 12:12 pm (UTC)
Funny thing: I was discussing Slumdog Millionaires with my brother this week. I haven't seen the movie but did read the book, he had not read the book but seen the movie. As such anything here is speculative.

From what I gather the movie is a continuous narrative with only few characters. The book basically contains short stories from someones life. The action is spread out over far more characters. There's also far more moral ambiguity as the main characters ends up killing at least one person and the girlfriend angle is a hooker he falls in love with. He needs the money to buy her freedom.

Many of the weaknesses of the movie you mention seem to stem from the conversion of book to script. The loss of characters seems inevitable, but it creates problems by the looks of because it causes the narrative to break down a bit.

The moral sanitisation of the main character is not and it's that bit that bothers me somewhat. Not only does it remove depth from the character, but it feels like bowing down to Hollywood because the movie would be unacceptable otherwise.

It's the same with the ending of the otherwise magnificent movie version of "25th hour". In the book his father warns Montgomery Brogan to leave his old life behind if he goes on the lam because he will be caught otherwise. In the movie he tells him to get his girlfriend to find him. It almost killed the movie for me. But I'm digressing.

Based on the setup of the book I imagined it as a serialized tv show. Though it probably wouldn't have had half the impact of the movie. Either way the book does come recommended.
Feb. 17th, 2009 09:52 am (UTC)
yeah, that kind of explains the disconnect with the first half of the film and the second (and the somewhat ludicrious suggestion that she's a virgin prostitute when he finds her again). but there is this disconnect with his time spent scamming, cheating and lying, and then his sudden turn of events to have a nine to five shit kicker job after his brother and he falls out.

i might track down the book in a bit, since i like the sound of it; but the movie isn't a bad way to spend some time, so long as you accept that everyone has been made nice by the mainstream machine. love is all about destiny now.

i'm sure you'll be relieved to hear this ;)
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