When he is accused of cheating, an orphan from Mumbai recounts moments from his life that helped him answer questions on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
In 2009, this film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and it took home eight of that number, so I suppose it’s a little redundant to say that this is a really good movie. But, I’ll say it anyways: this is a really good movie. Things that make this film stand out in particular are its unconventional method of storytelling, the spellbindingly saturated cinematography, the breakneck editing and general pacing, and most of all, its overall message, which feels incredibly hopeful for a movie filled with so much darkness. There are times when, looking back on the Oscars, one wonders how certain films won over others. Not 2009’s Oscars; it’s still clear today that “Slumdog” deserved its win.
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
The film starts with Jamal (Dev Patel, “Chappie”) being tortured by a pair of police officers. They want him to confess to cheating on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Jamal continues to claim he’s telling the truth- that he knows the answers to the questions- despite the fact that he’s had no formal education. In flashback form, Jamal recounts his life to the officers, explaining how he knows the answer for each question. Some of the incidents he talks about are quite humorous, while others haunt him greatly. Throughout his life, two of the most important people are his brother, Salim, and the love of his life, Latika. Though circumstances keep tearing them apart, Jamal is determined to find Latika again.
Danny Boyle (“127 Hours”, “Trainspotting”) is a fantastic director; he has a way of making things look raw and gritty; extremely real, while still feeling foreign and new. In some of his other films, he’s tackled topics like heroine addiction, murder, the true story of a man forced to cut his arm off to survive, and… erm… zombies. He likes to show the nastier side of life, but he does so in a way so cinematically interesting that his films always end up looking beautiful. “Slumdog Millionaire” is perhaps the best example of that. As it’s title suggests, this film is set in the slums of India, a place- at least in this cinematic world- that’s overflowing with crime and trash and filth. Boyle gets us right into the dirtiest parts of the city- (Jamal is literally covered head to toe in feces at one point) We see the world through the eyes of a young Salim and Jamal- where the water is brown and littered with plastic wrappers, bottles, and bags and where raids by extremists take the lives of men, women, and children. The world we’re shown does not shy away from the fact that there is violence in the streets, and sick men that try to take advantage of young girls and boys. Though it is not shown explicitly on screen, child prostitution, mutilation, murder, and abuse all happen in this film. It’s very disturbing, but the characters act as if the events they witness are nothing out of the ordinary, because for them, it probably isn’t. The slums aren’t glamorized or glossed over to make things seem easy; we’re shown the filthy side of life because that’s how they grew up. But, though the landscapes are littered with trash, the cinematography in this film somehow makes almost every shot look beautiful. There are plenty of wide shots rich with saturated color and alive with people and interesting things to look at. Danny Boyle has a tendency to like Dutch angles, or peculiar framing methods; this film is full of moments like that. Nearly every shot is interesting; it’s rare that you get simple framings or boring dialogue scenes. Boyle tries to keep things fresh, and he does so rather well.
The writing is fast paced and alive. A lot of things happen in this two-hour film. Jamal, Salim, and Latika’s lives are extremely difficult, and the characters themselves are not perfect people. We’re with these three children from the time they’re young till they’re in their late teens/early twenties. There is a lot of drama that happens between their characters- their relationships change and evolve drastically. That being said, Jamal’s character is a little one-note- because his goal never really changes after the first act. In fact, I’d say Salim is probably a more interesting character than Jamal, simply because of all of his flaws. That’s not to say that Jamal isn’t a good character, but he’s a very simple character and he doesn’t change too much. Salim’s character becomes one that, in the beginning you pity, towards the middle you come to hate, and towards the end, you’re hopefully surprised by his decision to change his ways. There are so many other interesting characters in this film, though, that even though Jamal is rather flat as a character, the others paint a rich portrait of the slums. Having just rewatched this movie, I was reminded a lot of “City of God” (2002)- a film that depicts the slums of Rio De Jeneiro. That film also depicts two different ways of growing up out of the slums- one of the boys became a hardworking photographer, while the other ended up getting into drug dealing. This film depicts two brothers growing up in Mumbai- one works hard to keep his nose clean, and the other, it’s implied, becomes a hitman for a local gangster.
The thing that I like most about this film also causes it to be a little bit melodramatic. This movie is all about the idea that some things are just meant to be. From the very beginning the movie asks us how a boy from the slums could know all the things he does; it’s presented as a multiple-choice question- with the final answer being that the way it happened is simply because “it is written.” This is a hopeful message, one that we all need to be reminded of every once in a while. This film, as I mentioned above, has a lot of darkness in it, but it also has moments of light permeating throughout. There are a few scenes that slip into melodrama- with dramatic music and slow motion bits that linger on characters reuniting. At times, it’s a little cheesy, but I’m more than willing to forgive it for that because of all the characters have had to go through to get where they are.
It had been a while since I’d seen this movie, so when it was requested as a review I was more than happy to sit down and watch it again. Honestly, I enjoyed it more than I remembered. I had forgotten about some of the moments of darkness, and some other moments of humor. Watching it again was a treat. Though there are some melodramatic moments, it more than makes up for it with the beautiful cinematography and message. This story is one that makes the audience cheer for the characters to be together, and then it rewards them greatly.
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