Monday, December 22, 2008

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal recently called Slumdog Millionaire the "world's first globalized masterpiece". To start with, that's not even true, but what grates about that statement is the idea that a "globalized" film industry would be good for cinema around the world. Though Scott Rudin and David Geffen probably drool puddles of profit at the thought of outsourcing Brad Pitt's future to a fourteen year-old Chinese boy, what Morgenstern is alluding to is the trend toward merging productions across international film markets... Hollywood and Bollywood, France and Hong Kong, London and Seoul. While there are benefits and drawbacks to globalized industries of all kind, what you're sometimes left with is an end product of acceptable mediocrity. Using that analogy, Slumdog Millionaire hangs like an ill-fitting Old Navy sweater.

We've accepted (tolerated) mediocrity from self-appointed Oscar contenders for quite some time, but the predictability with which this ceremony continually comes together has turned the once fruitful movie months of November & December into a less exciting season than the annual dump months of January & February. Ah, but perhaps that tide is turning... early seeming shoe-ins like Australia, The Reader, Seven Pounds, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are getting shrugs from the critics while fan favorites & critical darlings like The Dark Knight, Gran Torino, and Milk were snubbed by The Golden Globes. There seems to be a civil war going on within Hollywood's glass towers. This can only be good. Have them eat themselves so they are forced to start anew.

Following in the footprints of established successful form, Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire unfolds like award whores The Usual Suspects and Forrest Gump. Jamal (Dev Patel) is a motherless child beating back poverty in the slums of Mumbai by hustling footwear, swiping nan, and giving fake tours of the Taj Mahal. He works his way onto the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? but, because they think he's a cheat, Jamal is preemptively interrogated by police on the eve of facing the 20 million rupee question. To argue his innocence, Jamal must justify each answer to the detectives.

From here, the game show doubles as a plot device for Slumdog's coming of age story. With the explanation of each answer we are granted flashback to moments in Jamal's life where experience and circumstance fated him with the knowledge that will lead to that twenty million rupee moment. The whole thing kinda smells a bit too cute, not far removed from the Danny Boyle Hallmark-meets-SPIKE TV muscle fluff of Millions, yet this time the charity fairy tale is given an ethnic twist sure to please Academy voters. I won't deny it, Slumdog can warm your belly, and if you're on the treadmill at the gym its fluidity may suit your easy input faculties just right. But thinking back on it soon after a viewing is to realize that Slumdog Millionaire is a film already beginning to age.

And just what, exactly, is to be made of the moment where Jamal's bad seed brother, Salim, takes a blood-money bath during a gunfire siege reminiscent of the final sequence in DePalma's Scarface? By contrasting this moment with Jamal's rise to wealth, and then having Salim whisper "Allah is great", is Boyle suggesting Salim has cosmically martyred himself for the sake of Jamal's newfound riches? Is Boyle telling us that by taking the righteous path, Jamal has earned the right to immodestly walk those golden streets? I know, I know... "just ease off and enjoy the cute story!". Fine, but then trade with me the admission that Danny Boyle is not a great director and Slumdog Millionaire is not a great movie.

19 comments:

Marilyn said...

The hubby was keen on it, but we couldn't get tickets to it at the CIFF. When it opened in theatres, he lost interest in it, so we haven't seen it. The film is a crowd-pleaser from everything I've read, and that's probably how it should be judged. Millions was a film I enjoyed. I think Boyle has that touch, and that's a service to humanity. Beyond that, who knows?

Slayton said...

I agree wholeheartedly - my review (far less in-depth) is on my blog.

I've always found Danny Boyle to be a director willing to forsake story, depth and coherence for energy and noise. He's the cinematic equivalent of a magpie - loud and preoccupied with bright, shiny things.

Fox said...

I think Boyle has that touch, and that's a service to humanity.

I think that's a good point, and it's one that my wife makes when we disagree about Boyle. I just can't help but feeling that his movies are shells of films whenever I take one in.

Slayton-

I think your description of Boyle is exactly how i felt about Sunshine. Again, it was a "shell" of a movie for me, but his messiest, noisest, and most irritating.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I haven't seen this yet but plan to in the next two weeks as I catch up with 2008 releases. So far in my catching up I have come to realize that this is a rather poor year for film. I'm probably judging too early since I've only taken in a few so far, but those few I've taken in are among the best received of the year, and frankly, I'm a little shocked.

There's a couple you and I agree on completely but I'll wait until my year-end wrap up post in January to discuss them.

Pat said...

Fox,

Wow, I have to completely disagree. I loved "Slumdog Millionaire," and in fact, the second time I saw it - even though I knew everything that was going to happen - I was on the edge of my seat with tears in my eyes for the entire last 15 or 20 minutes of the film. Maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough (and, granted, I have little experience of Boyle, never saw "Trainspotting" or "28 Days," liked "Millions), but I can't say a bad word about this film.

Fox said...

Maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough...

Pat!

Come on, lady! I read your thoughts on Slumdog and think you make just as valid points as anyone else with a point of view. Trust me, I ain't sophisticated, just opinionated. Just today my wife told me in the car today that I was wrong about Slumdog and Boyle in general... :).

Jonathan-

Agreed on 2008 not being a great year, but I like it better than 2007. Last year I found it difficult to find 10 films I really liked, while this year I'm having to cut some to decide on a final 10.

I mean, in general, in the last ten years - maybe more - I think the quality of films have declined. I know that's a broad, blanket statement and I can't back it up at this point with any legitimate argument, but maybe in the future.

I'm looking forward to your year-end thoughts, b/c outside of Happy-Go-Lucky, I don't know if we've discussed something that's come out in '08.

debbie said...

I love Boyle and I liked Slumdog a lot. The musical number at the end was the greatest payoff ever! (music & movies=why I love "My Best Friend's Wedding").

However, I felt his visual style for this movie was very dated. Very 1990. Very disappointed.

Fox said...

Debbie-

I like My Best Friend's Wedding too... way more than Slumdog.

Sam Juliano said...

I completely disagree with your take on SLUMDOG,which is one of the year's very best films. Pat is 100% right in my view, but I'll keep looking for some agreement. LOL!!! Great essay though.

Sam Juliano said...

I hated MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING ,but my wife Lucille agrees with you.

As to it's being better than SLUMDOG, which has rightly taken the national critical establishment by storm this year (winning by far more "Best Picture" prizes than any other film, and also capturing the hearts of somany bloggers and moviegoers as a result of its viseral,kinetic an dinfectious filmaking....well.....I won't even go there.....It's like saying that BILL AND TED'S GREAT ADVENTURE is better than SIDEWAYS.
But I do concede that what is one person's peaches and crean is another's poison.

PIPER said...

Fox,

I saw this last week and considering that all I seem to watch recently is kid's movies, I enjoyed this. But I felt like I should have liked it more.

It had all the elements, but it didn't have a heart. Maybe? I don't know. I can't put my finger on it.

But I agree with you that it's not as good as everyone thinks it is. But hey, everyone's saying that The Dark Knight is the best movie of the year.

Fox said...

Piper -

Exactly! I hate to keep using Forrest Gump as an example, but it felt like that type of harmless entertainment that, at it's core, was lacking a "heart" that elevated it above mediocrity.

Btw... that lack of heart, I think, lies in Boyle.

Moviezzz said...

I agree that SLUMDOG was a very overrated film.

The framing device was what hurt it for me. Did it need to have both the interrogation and the game show? Why not just have the game show, and flashing back to his life?

I still like Boyle as a director. This just isn't my favorite of his.

MovieMan0283 said...

You should check out Brandon Colvin at Out 1's take on this - even more acerbic than your own! I enjoyed Slumdog, but agree it's definitely not a great movie...and the ending was a mess.

It's been a poor year for movies, but you're absolutely right that it's been a terrible decade for movies.

I don't think any renaissance will come from Hollywood. As the market opens up with cheaper technology and new avenues of distribution, I think and hope the geography and insularity of the film inudustry will be turned on its head.

Soiled Sinema said...

Danny Boyle's a mixed man in my book. I don't buy the glamorized tale of dope he weaved with the equally obnoxious Trainspotting and the last half of 28 Days Later pisses me off to no end. His only film with a consistent amount of substance has been his early Shallow Grave.

Slumdog Millionaire, aesthetically, is bland. I'll admit that, but the "cute swoon" story is rather engaging. I haven't been swayed by a film with shallow emotional depth in a long while. The virgin-esque character of Latika has been chopped & screwed for sake of Oscar submission, I can read that. Based on a book about child prostitution, Jamal has been chasing a whore whom he's never physically interacted with. Not only that, but she's a heartless floozy trapped in a world of crime that isn't depicted the way it should.

I totally agree with your dissection of the "lol symbolic" ending which left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't receive much from these films generally, but Slumdog Millionaire, as I mentioned in my review, has that City of God feel that I miss incredibly. Not since Friend have I seen a film about youth aging together and splitting in tragic roots. Slumdog Millionaire isn't a great film but it has great emotions.

Also, take my recommendation and seek out Friend. It's Korean.

-mAQ

Jimsin said...

I was starting to think that Slumdog Millionaire was like the 'Emporer's New Clothes'- nobody could see that the wonderful gown was completely insubstantial.

I'm not keen on children, but they carried the first half of the film along quite well ... but the second half was horribly weak and wishy washy. No amount of heavenly 'lalala' music during the love scenes could make them seem remotely convincing - the bathtub thing was bizzare (not in a good way), and even the dance routine at the end was sadly inferior to even the most mediocre Bollywood number.

I can't understand all the rave reviews, so it was nice to read that I'm not alone in not finding this to be some sort of heavenly perfect film experience.

Jo Mc said...

I have to agree and say this film was terribly overrated and a huge disappointment. No real character development/relationship growth between Jamal and Letica. I feel like the director set up Jamal's character to be one who didn't give up on what he wanted, yet there were heaps of times he walked away from Letica. And the idea that Letica was an 'untouched' virgin when the brothers finally tracked her down was nonsensical. Far from being one of the best movies I've seen this year, I'd call it one of the most shallow.

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