Saturday, December 20, 2008

REVIEW: Slumdog Millionaire

I less than three independent films. There are two different types of indie films though. First, you have the true independents, such as, well, ANY David Lynch film. Then you have the bigger indie films (oxymoron aside), such as any Fox Searchlight film. Over the past couple of years, Fox Searchlight has produced the proverbial "little indie that could" during Oscar season. 2006 you had the critically lauded Little Miss Sunshine, a film I don't completely love, but it grows on me with every viewing. Then, last year, you had the more critically lauded Juno, a film I like even less. Now, in 2008, they have released the Golden Globe nominated, and HEAVILY favored independent film, Slumdog Millionaire. In a year that has brought us brilliant indie or indie-esque films such as Milk, Paranoid Park, and my #1 film of the year, Rachel Getting Married, can this one stand out?

Slumdog Millionaire is a new film from Danny Boyle, most famous for helming the great zombie flick 28 Days Later, and the favorite film of many college kids I know, Trainspotting. It tells the tale of Jamal Malik, a young beggar, who makes an appearance on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He does extremely well, which suddenly raises questions about how a "slumdog" could know answers other, supposedly smarter contestants couldn't. The film consists of flashbacks of major events in his life, from the death of his mother at a very young age, up to the final, 20,000,000 Rupee question, all of which show how he knew a subsequent answer. A love story is at the center of the film, and it's the real driving force as to the movement of the film. Now, this film has gotten a lot of pub, and is favored by many people in the know when it comes to who will win Best Picture this year at the Oscars, and honestly, I can see why, I just don't completely agree.

This, as I stated above, is the new film from director, Danny Boyle, who, in my opinion, made his best film last year, in the horribly unseen film, Sunshine. However, this is a close second. The film is truly saved by his direction. He shot the film with a new, camera called the Silicon Imaging SI-2K, which made the film very interesting to look at. It's shot on digital, so it doesn't really look like film, but the resolution does look a lot like film, more than most digital films. It's not as liquid than film, with a lot more grainy visual flares, but the camera is a lot smaller, so all of the acting and interchanges feel a lot more natural, and not so "acted", especially from the younger actors. Also, during a few of the major flashback moments, the shots sort of jump a little, as if you are watching a bunch of photos in motion, which makes it feel all the more dream like. There are a couple of truly great chase scenes that really work, and there may be no single place on this planet that looks better on film than India.

Throughout the film, we follow Jamal, through major events in his life, all pertaining to questions he was asked during Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. We first see him being interrogated by a police officer, trying to get information out of him, on how he knew all of the answers, as no one has ever been able to get past the 50,000 rupee question, and he's one away from 20,000,000. The older Jamal is played by Dev Patel, and he is a major discovery. He gives such innocence and general kindness, that this film really grows on you as it goes. That all said, he does have a couple of bad-ass moments, that make this film really fun. The film does have a few heavy moments, but overall, I had a smile on my face until the end of this flick, even up to the dance number during the credits. The entire cast really does a great job, even the brilliant Irfan Kahn, who gives another great turn.

The film is based off of a book called Q and A, written by Vikas Swarup, and is written by Simon Beaufoy, who definitely deserves some sort of award. The premise seems like it would be a tough story to write, but Beaufoy knocks it out of the park with not only giving a great suspense story in finding out if he gets the answers right, but he also gives the film a completely working and compelling love story that really saves the film from being another flash in the pan. It's not perfectly written, but minus a few follies, this is definitely a great film. However, there are a few flaws.

The biggest flaw to me, is that, while there is a story intertwining the flashbacks, it all feels far to episodic for me. It feels like 24, but instead of each episode being an hour, each episode is a different question. The direction does save this a little bit, but near the middle, I just got a little bored with it. Also, some of the direction felt a little ham fisted, in that it felt like it was trying to grab your attention, simply to the visuals, instead of the story. If this film was shot in a smaller sense like Rachel Getting Married, but as beautifully as this is, it would have been a brilliant film. Really though, EVERYONE is loving this film, so whatever I say shouldn't steer you away. I liked this film, I just don't think it's going to make my year end top 10, so take that for what it is. I will say this though, it's better than both Juno and Little Miss Sunshine. Leaps and bounds ahead.

Slumdog Millionaire - 8/10

Come back later for more news and notes, along with a new top 10, the 10 Best Films of 2008...

Go see something good!

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