Monday, December 29, 2008

Man on Film: Slumdog Millionaire

This is a review that I have somehow managed to not get around to until now, about three weekends after I actually saw the film. That I have not gotten around to this review--or reaction, or whatever the fuck it is--should not be perceived as an indicator of a lukewarm response to the film.

I am a fan of Danny Boyle's work. I loved how visceral and stark he made the zombie genre feel in 28 Days Later--and yes, it's not technically a zombie film in the strictest sense of the genre, but if you're denying its essence of zombie-ness you are on angel dust. I loved the rollick through the heroin haze that was Trainspotting*. I thought Sunshine was brilliant in that for the first half of the film it is this stunning, coherent 2001 that suddenly turns into a hand-wringing space horror flick yet at no point did I feel like I was watching two different films or that the transition was anything but a smooth one. Hell, I even enjoyed A Life Less Ordinary, despite all of its flaws.

*This is totally not related to this film, but I think my favorite weird travel moment was while I was just dicking around in Edinburgh one afternoon, and I was walking down a hill when it dawned on me that the stairs I just passed were where Spud and Renton were being chased by the cops and Renton ran right into a car on the street, iconically putting his hands down on the hood of the car, staring at the driver for far too long as the police close ground quickly.

All that being said, I absolutely loved Slumdog Millionaire. In fact, of Boyle's body of work, this has to have been my favorite, which is no small compliment. As the film begins, we are introduced to Jamal Malik, a Muslim teen in Mumbai who has been arrested on suspicion of cheating on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Over the course of the interrogation, Jamal's biography is explored in epic fashion with his life's story providing the explanation for his knowledge of the answers a young man of his background should not know.

As nearly any film set on the seedier side of life in the slums of a third-world city, it is nearly impossible to view this film without at least making mention of Fernando Meirelles' City of God--for better or worse--and honestly, Slumdog Millionaire holds up exceptionally well. At their cores, though, they're different in that Slumdog Millionaire is propelled as much by a love so strong it seems to have been fated while City of God is a tale of personal perseverance. Past the driving forces of each film, they are both powerfully presented narratives rife with the struggles and dangers of the vast and violent third-world slums.

Where Slumdog Millionaire sets itself apart is the joie de vivre that pulsates from the film. Despite many, many shitty things that happen to our hero Jamal, there is always an overwhelming hope and determination to find the girl he loves, Latika, that overrides his many defeats. Sure, this Dickensian tale can at times border on manipulative, but in the end nearly every film has just a little bit of manipulation and this one seems to ask from its onset for the viewer to subscribe to its fated journey and outcome thus suspending his or her disbelief if ever so slightly. It is the ride itself that is so enthralling so as to make any tugging at the strings from the puppeteer seem welcome.

Regardless, this film is so alive that to miss it would be doing a disservice to yourself.

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