Friday, November 21, 2008

From the Archive: "Slumdog Millionaire" Film Review

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Slumdog Millionaire.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“Slumdog Millionaire”
Originally published November 21st, 2008

Not all films can live up to expectations.  I’m always on the lookout for a good movie, and I first heard about Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire when the Toronto Film Festival was happening—I heard so many amazing things about the movie, and I’ve continued to hear great things since, making me more and more excited for the time when the film would eventually hit Denver.  Now it has, and now I’ve seen it, and as with any movie that gets critical hype, the million-dollar question is:

What kind of film is Slumdog Millionaire?

A: An overhyped melodramatic mess of a movie
B: Good, but forgettable
C: Worth critical approval
D: An inspirational, moving, phenomenal film that cannot be done justice with mere words—a film you must see to believe.

You may have noticed that my traditional letter-grade ‘film rating’ isn’t at the top of the review; that’s because there are four answers to choose from, and the film-rating would give it away.  Read on, and I’ll bet you can deduce the answer to the question.

Slumdog Millionaire opens with Indian street-kid Jamal Malik one question away from winning 20 million rupees on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?  The audience is presented with a question: how did Jamal get this far?  There are four answers, among them that he cheated, but from the beginning, the audience can tell that’s not right.  When the show breaks for the night, Jamal is arrested and interrogated, because the show thinks he cheated.  That’s when Jamal is forced to recite his life story.

And what a story it is.           

Slumdog is a journey, one that traverses India and shows us the lowest levels of poverty, the darkest aspects of humanity, and power inside all of us to overcome that.  Jamal’s story is akin to something you’d find in the work of Charles Dickens; a lowly street-rat rises to success.  Parallels to Oliver Twist are drawn in the first act, when Jamal and his brother are taken to an orphanage after the death of their mother, only to learn that their keepers may have ulterior motives.  They finally wind up at the Taj Mahal, where they work by pretending to be tour guides.  They work in kitchens.  They grow apart.  Jamal works as an assistant at a telemarketing office.  All the while, he has one goal in mind, a goal that drives everything he does throughout the film; he wants to find the girl he loves, Latika.

Slumdog Millionaire is a film that works on an amazing number of levels.  There’s humor, drama, and action; you’ll laugh, you’ll tear-up, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat (though usually in scenes that revolve around, in retrospect, nothing particularly extraordinary).  Every minute of the film is better than the minute that preceded it, until it reaches those final, staggeringly phenomenal scenes where multiple aspects of Jamal’s life come together to change his life.  I or any other critic can write about the film for dozens of pages, but there’s really no way to sum it up; the experience is something different from any other film, and it’s something you have to see for yourself.

The plot itself is incredibly creative, one of those stories where you wonder “who thought of this?”  The centerpiece of the film is a game of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, which, through Jamal’s interrogation by a police officer, explains his amazing life story, which deals with themes of poverty, loss, love, sin, and redemption.  What we learn is that Jamal’s life is his ‘lifeline;’ he knows the answers to the questions because of how and where he grew up, and the experiences he’s gone through making it to where he is.  Using a game of Millionaire to tell a life story is unusual, but completely brilliant. 

Director Danny Boyle truly deserves an Oscar for his work on the film; he’s an incredibly versatile director, never dabbling in the same genre more than once, and Slumdog is his masterpiece.  He presents India as it is.  There’s good and there’s bad; there are happy visuals and disturbing ones, and Boyle captures it all in a beautiful, unique way (I can’t wait to see this movie on Blu-Ray).  Boyle can effortlessly change pace from a heavy, dramatic scene to a lighthearted exchange or montage that will fill you with a warm feeling.
The music, with a heavy Indian feel to it, is as much a character as anyone else in the film, mixing Indian pop songs and a beautiful, touching score.  The music ties the final sequence together—which features three very different settings, all of which culminate in the touching and inspiring finale.  This final sequence is a perfect example of how important music is in the film, because it fleshes out the scene to a new level.  The music consistently does this throughout the film, and composer A.R. Rahman deserves lots of credit for his wonderful work.

The acting can’t be forgotten; each of the three main characters (Jamal, his brother Salim, and love interest Latika) are all played by three different actors over the course of the film, and they all do such a good job that, when combined with the editing, you never really notice the changes in actors.  They all channel the same character.  Dev Patel has to be singled out for his performance as older Jamal, though; he does a great job.  Still, the show stealer is Anil Kapoor, a very famous actor in Hindi cinema, who plays the Millionaire host.  Want to know what Regis Philbin would be like were he Indian?  Here you go; Kapoor has so many nuances, small and large, that not only bring the character, but the environment of the show, to life, something essential to the success of the film.

By now, I’m sure you can guess what the answer to the question I presented above is; if you need a hint, it’s the answer that sums up this movie and what an experience it is.   

D: An inspirational, moving, phenomenal film that cannot be done justice with mere words—a film you must see to believe.

And I’m sure you can guess the letter grade as well; Slumdog Millionaire is one of the great achievements of 2008, one of the best films of the year and a movie that everybody needs to see. 

Film Rating: A

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