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Slumdog Millionaire

Released: 2008

Genre: Romance

Runtime: 2 hr 0 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan

Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda, Rubina Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar

Oscar-winning fable about a love struck teenager who wins Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Story threads clash awkwardly, but the film doesn't care.

Review by: TomElce

Added: 7 years ago

A rags-to-riches story that posits a cheery song-and-dance number after a violent death, Slumdog Millionaire is both a celebration and an indulgence. For some, it will be the greatest Bollywood film they never saw. For others, it will be an offense, a fairytale for audiences weaned on Disney. For director Danny Boyle, it makes an even more horrific cinematic outing than 2002's 28 Days Later, only for exactly the wrong reasons. Links to questions answered on the film's example of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" are built on tragedy, death and misery, from its employing of real-life "slumdog" children to the bigotry-inspired murder of its lead character's mother. Barely ever, it seems, are answers known, as torturers and interrogators shall find out right along with us, by one's having been innocently told.

One has to admire the film's aesthetics and the way in which several sequences are shot. A scene set in a bathroom to become littered with money, the use of a mirror is both audacious and affecting, the film putting across its message of tragedy extremely well. So far as I can remember, this is the only sequence of death and regret not being used to wrap up an explanation pertaining to one of the "Millionaire" game's correct answers. Alas, its cut into a sequence alongside the final question of Jamal Malik's (Dev Patel) game, in which Jamal and lifelong crush Latika (Freida Pinto) are seen smiling with delight. Slumdog Millionaire wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to be seen as a sobering representation of the real-life sufferings endured by many Indian children but additionally a cliched fateful romance. Constantly, the story threads clash awkwardly, but the film doesn't care. Nor, it seems, did Oscar.

When they rewarded the Coens' gritty post-noir No Country for Old Men with the Best Picture prize, the Academy briefly put aside their contrived box-ticking for a movie that had an effect not later revealed to be false. With the pseudo-uplifting Slumdog Millionaire, they've sat neatly back in their butt-groove. Attractive cinematography granted, Boyle's film, a Simon Beaufoy scripted mess adapted from the novel by Vikas Swarup, does the same thing as many off-abroad dramas before it, putting a white face on Indian suffering the same way that films like Blood Diamond do with African problems. Slumdog Millionaire appeals to a Western view of the Asian world, wrapping up the trials and tribulations of brown-skinned individuals in a package fit for consumption -- and, indeed, reward. Jamal goes through some bad (really bad!) times but we can all applaud when he gets what he's been after all along -- which, naturally, isn't the riches afforded by his gameshow of choice but the love of his curiously beautiful sweetheart.

Having grown up in the slums of Mumbai, Jamal Malik applies and gets accepted as a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?," thus being afforded the chance to leave behind his poverty for great riches, the top prize being 20 million rupees. Defying the odds and, indeed, the show's history, Jamal makes it to the final question before time for the recording of the show expires. He will return to answer (or perhaps not answer?) the final question the following day, but before then will be arrested on suspicion of cheating and subjected to pretty unforgiving police tactics, all targeted at figuring out how a slumdog like Jamal could possibly possess all the knowledge to answer such questions.

Related through flashbacks of varying degrees of effectiveness, Jamal's life unfolds as a handbook of myriad cliches and contrivances. Boyle channels Elite Squad in his neutered portrayal of people-trafficking gangsters. Here, the exploitative bad guys forever making Jamal's struggle to find his beloved Latika include his own brother, a character whose arc plays like that of Scarface if he were inept and beset with mushy brotherly emotion. The Malik brothers' childhood is littered with foul human beings and its no surprise, argues the movie, that one of the brothers should wind up a gun-toting criminal. Salim (ultimately portrayed by a regretful Madhur Mittal) is corruptable from the start nut Jamal has his eyes only on Latika, even when she continually evades his gaze and he has to search her out. The solution he comes up with eventually -- to go on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" -- is to put himself in a position where Latika will know where he is.

It's giving nothing away to confirm that Jamal ultimately gets what he's always longed for while his brother finds himself increasingly doomed and constricted by his criminal lifestyle. Slumdog Millionaire may have been described as the feel-good film of the decade, but such quote-whore lines are an unimaginative reading of its central relationship, which itself is superficially-developed for a romance the viewer is asked, implored, to root for. Besides shared childhood experiences, there isn't really that much put forth to explain why Jamal and Latika are so besotted with each other. Neither one is bad looking so it's no stretch to believe they'd be attracted to each other in one way. However, the two don't really share a meaningful conversation with each other, they're always pulled apart by external forces before that's allowed to happen. Is Latika's reciprocation inspired by her finding Jamal's search for her endearing? If so, she's basically the Hollywood star who invited the stalker in for coffee.

When one looks beyond superficial traits as Slumdog's beleagueringly calculated feel-good elements (which come on thick during the final reel), there's little that feels rewarding from a film that nonetheless was the recipient -- how could we forget? -- of eight Oscars. Save for the admittedly inspired use of the familiar tunes of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?," the film's glossiness has minimal positive impact. Above all else, Boyle's film is condescending, asserting that not only did Jamal learn the answers to his questions from life experience, but in chronological order. Heck, the only regression to be had in the questioning of show host Prem Kumar (charismatically played by Anil Kapoor) comes with the end question, which perfectly encapsulates why this ludicrous third world meditation has no place in reality. In brief, it may have been the childhood version of Jamal who took "The Three Musketeers" to the head, but we the audience are the ones left feeling bludgeoned.