19 December 2008
At the movies: Slumdog Millionaire.
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is suspected of having cheated on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and is being tortured by the police to confess having done so. Instead, we discover how each of the questions asked of him pertains to some anecdote or story from his life, springing from consuming poverty through countless picaresque adventures and horrors, only to find himself in the national limelight and on the verge of winning twenty million rupees (around $405,000).
The critical community is losing their mind with praise over this film, racking up countless critics' awards and a lot of Golden Globe nominations. There's talk of major Oscar contention, as well as a perceived increase in relevance following the horrifying terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The time seems to be right for this rags-to-riches-to-torture story, and it seems to be The Little Film That Could.
Sadly, Slumdog Millionaire is a dire piece of filmmaking. Directors Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan have an exceptional color palette, but they've used it in the service of a film that has no energy or spark. There's a lot of running and violence, but as both love story and social drama, nothing connects. The film fetishizes poverty even as it exploits its visual immediacy for gullible viewers, and its lazy and predictable script leaves no cliché unused even as it aims to be some sort of defining statement on the twenty-first century world.