Directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan
Celador Films, 2008
By David Hollands
When a film garners as much critical praise as Slumdog Millionaire has, one assumes watching the movie will be like witnessing the second coming of Christ. When I heard the praise growing, I didn’t join in the chorus; Slumdog Millionaire is directed by Danny Boyle, one of the most overrated filmmakers of all time.
The story? Jamal Malik, a young man born and raised in the slums of Mumbai, becomes a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in the hopes that the love of his life, Latika, will be watching him. Jamal manages to answer every question correctly, prompting security to suspect that he’s cheating. In police custody, Jamal reveals how he knew the answers: each answer relates to specific moments in his life, which — you guessed it — the audience gets to watch in flashback.
Therein lies a major problem: Slumdog Millionaire is a structural mess. Every time Jamal answers a question, the audience is whisked back to the corresponding life event. Only a few of the flashbacks are devoted to moving the story forward. Most serve the function of explaining in utterly contrived fashion how Jamal knew the answers. Jamal and his brother develop an animosity toward each other, and Jamal meets Latika, which is certainly important story-wise. For a good hour or so, however, the characters don’t develop! In fact, Jamal NEVER develops. His arc is incredibly limited, and a drag to experience. Jamal’s brother Salim should have been the protagonist; his arc of corruption and eventual redemption is the more interesting story.
Another problem: Slumdog Millionaire has a disastrous moral cop-out as its conclusion. (Those bothered by spoilers should steer clear.) To absolutely no one’s surprise, Jamal is one question away from the grand prize. Preceding this moment, money and greed are treated in the film as the roots of all evil. Jamal is not interested in money, only in being with Latika. Fine… but then why is the film’s climax constructed around whether or not Jamal will get the money? Is money suddenly not evil because the “good” characters have it now? If Slumdog Millionaire had any balls whatsoever, Jamal would not have won. His love for Latika should have been enough. The movie’s message is mixed, to say the least.
How about the theme? Here it is: destiny. That’s. It. Seriously! The movie had me sitting through all sorts of annoying visual and aural razzamatazz for two hours, and all it had to say is that our lives are controlled by destiny? Bullshit. Boring and uninteresting bullshit, no less.
As for Mr. Boyle’s much-lauded direction, it seems he is perfectly content with shaking and tilting his camera all over the place, no matter what the scene. A single shot hardly ever lasts on the screen for more than two seconds. That’s. Annoying. Mr. Artiste Boyle also seems to think his audience is composed of complete morons. During the last act, there were flashbacks to scenes and moments that had played not five minutes earlier! At one point, our genius director cuts to a shot of Latika when Jamal speaks of her, just in case we dullards had forgotten who she was.
More of the bad: a loud, constantly blaring soundtrack that almost made me go deaf; the crappiest cinematography in ages (digitally manipulated straight to hell — seriously, the movie looks like neon vomit); and let’s not forget the egregious dance number that closes the film. What is that even doing in a movie that features child mutilation, child prostitution, murder, and torture? It frightens me that the violence, while pretty visceral and disturbing in some moments, ultimately becomes pretty lightweight and unimportant by the film’s conclusion. That lacks maturity. I think it’s disgusting to feature such violence in a film that’s ultimately a dopey and lighthearted romance.
Some good stuff: an amazing musical score, great performances, and the knowledge that it will all be over at some point.
In a wonderful year for cinema that saw so many amazing, challenging films, the fact that this one seems to be the biggest critical darling is disturbing on a level even I cannot imagine. If this boring, predictable, clichéd, and truly dumb movie wins Best Picture, cinema will be in great danger of losing its soul.