Slumdog Millionaire (2008): **½
Directed by Danny Boyle
Slumdog Millionaire has some good performances, some good
direction, good music, and some very charming scenes (especially
in the first half). But Best Picture? Really? For a movie so very
My number one main problem with the movie is that it consistently
violates its own premise in ways that seem lazy and stupid rather
than clever and interesting. Here's the basic premise: a young man
named Jamal gets on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire. He has no education whatsoever; he grew up in
the slums (hence Slumdog). And yet he knows the answers
to all of the questions to which he shouldn't know the the answers.
How does he know them? Turns out his slumdog life was so crazy that
he just happened to be exposed to the answers in ways you wouldn't
That seems like a movie premise that would be very easy to stick
to: Guy gets asked a question, and then you have a flashback as
to how he learned the answer. Repeat, each question seeming more
unlikely that he could possibly know the answer. Simple, right?
And full of great ways to have comedy, drama, and clever situations
that make the audience go, "Ah! I never would have guessed
he learned it that way!"
And the movie's first story does start out promising: a funny and
disgusting tale about how when he was a very young boy Jamal dove
into a pile of poop in order to get a Bollywood star's autograph.
But soon there's a question about what object a specific Hindu deity
(Ramallah) is typically portrayed as holding. And it turns out that
Jamal knows about this because he was forced to flee through the
streets of his slum during an anti-Muslim riot. As he turns a corner
there is what appears to be a small child fully decked out as the
deity. With no explanation. What the-? That doesn't even make any
frikkin' sense! Was it actually a kid dressed up as the deity? If
so, why? Or was it supposed to be some sort of a vision of the deity?
I don't know! Rawr!
Later on the host of the game show tries to sabotage Jamal (apparently
out of jealousy) by feeding him the wrong answer to the question,
but Jamal distrusts the host and therefore doesn't follow his advice.
And that's how he gets the answer right. It has nothing to do with
his crazy childhood. Cough. Yeah.
At another point the film jumps ahead several years and suddenly
Jamal is working in a call center as a tea server. No explanation
as to how he got there, especially without the help of his brother,
who did all of the heavy lifting in their relationship.
And the second half of the film devolves into basically a gangster
movie, and not a very interesting gangster movie in that. His brother
kills a gang leader and gets hired by a rival gang leader, and at
that point the movie stops being clever or smart and becomes just
another gangster, brother-vs-brother type of movie.
One of the main threads through the movie is the "romance"
between Jamal and a girl from their slums named Latika. I put "romance"
in quotes because it's that kind of love story where the young boy
falls in love with the young girl for no apparent reason and then
still loves her even though they've both grown and he hasn't seen
her in years and has no idea (and indeed doesn't even care) what
kind of woman she's become. He doesn't actually love her; he loves
his weird, idealized, childhood memory of her. Sorry, I don't find
that particularly romantic. Kinda disturbingly obsessive, maybe.
There's also a framing device wherein the bitchy game show host
has Jamal arrested, where he is interrogated by the police and forced
to explain his reasons for knowing the answers to the game show
questions. It seemed to me to be an uninteresting and unnecessary
extra step of removal from the story: Jamal is being interrogated,
we flashback to Jamal being asked the question on the game show,
we then flashback within the flashback to the life experiences that
(sometimes) lead to the answer. I also didn't find the whole enmity
of the game show host interesting or necessary. It seemed like it
was just keeping us away from the childhood flashbacks, which is
what the real meat of the movie should have been.
There are good and clever parts to this movie. I really enjoyed
the scenes of Jamal and his brother living on top of trains and
fleecingnaive tourists at the Taj Mahal. I really enjoyed how he
knew which US president was on the $100 bill. Freida Pinto, who
plays the grown-up Latika, is shockingly beautiful.
But the movie violates its own premise too many times, has too
many framing devices that pull us away from the meat of the movie,
and becomes an uninteresting gangster movie and an unappealing romance.
It is not anywhere near best picture quality. And that is my final