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.