Today, I saw Slumdog Millionaire. While, as usual, I'm not sure that it's the amazing, awe-inspiring, life-changing piece of cinema the critics make it out to be, it's quite good, and I really enjoyed it.
Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal Malik, titular slumdog, who does very well on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? He is accused of cheating, because how in the hell could a kid who grew up in the slums, a kid who serves chaa know all the answers? How? Well, it's this wacky coincidence called Destiny. Jamal's interrogation serves as a deliciously clever frame story in which Jamal relates his life story and shows exactly how he knew the answers: they asked him the right questions. Despite how contrived it is in a fictional setting, I really loved the idea of it because I've always been interested in the fact that we don't all know the same things. What we know is a specific product of our own lives. When we watch those game shows, we're always shouting out the answers and screaming in frustration when the contestant doesn't know such obvious facts. Well, obvious is relative.
The major plot of Jamal's life story is a movie love story. He becomes separated from his childhood sweetheart and spends the rest of his life trying to find her again. incidentist calls her a "love object" rather than a "love interest," and, sadly, he's right. Latika doesn't really have a character besides That Girl Jamal Is Really Attached To. The movie sells the love story really well anyway, however.
Obviously, I have a different perspective on this movie than most of you, being Indian and having been to India, where this movie was shot on location. So I can tell you with confidence that, yeah, that's what India is like. One of those beggar girls even looked familiar. Heh. But it was really cool to see a movie set in India about Indians that doesn't suck. What's up, BOLLYWOOD? WHY ARE ALL YOUR MOVIES SHOT THE EXACT SAME WAY? Danny Boyle is kind of a kinetic director, I think, and he's somehow able to use images to do more than they should. He doesn't make India look like a more wondrous place than it is, but he makes it feel justly vibrant all the same. It was really interesting to see my country represented filmically like that in a movie that's going to be seen by so many non-Indians. I didn't even feel culturally appropriated or anything like that; it's not like Boyle felt he had to turn his star into a white guy or anything (COUGH COUGH COUGH). Go, white people, learn about Indian culture from this movie if that is your wont! (P.S. Best tour of the Taj Mahal ever.)
The only white people in this movie are silly tourists. The star is Dev Patel, who's graduated from Skins, which is where Danny Boyle's daughter saw him. I always hated Anwar, but Jamal was nothing like Anwar, and I think Dev Patel has made me like Anwar a little more in retrospect. Also of note are the police inspector, Irrfan Khan, who was familiar to me from The Namesake and some Bollywood movies including Chocolate (the unauthorized remake/rip-off of The Usual Suspects), and the Millionaire host, Anil Kapoor, who is a really famous Bollywood actor. But not as famous as Amitabh Bachchan, who really is the most famous man in India. That dude is in EVERYTHING.
The three major characters—Jamal, his brother Salim, and Latika—are played by three different actors as they grow up. They begin as street urchins and end as...well, that would be giving it away. The story overall is rather Dickensian, but even though there were few real surprises, I was engrossed the whole way through. And the climax, holy shit, when the fates of all three characters intertwine and come to a head...again: even though there was very little doubt as to the outcome, it was gloriously tense and exciting and this-is-it-oh-my-God-edge-of-your-seat. Some may call it manipulative, but Boyle had me in his crafty little hands.
So Slumdog Millionaire gets two brown thumbs up from me. A solid piece of filmmaking. (That's rated R for no discernible reason. I suppose there was "some violence, disturbing images and language," but not more than a PG-13. If The Dark Knight can scrape by with a PG-13, anything can. The R is for Racist!)
What sort of movie will Danny Boyle make next?