December has only just begun, but we have a leading candidate for Best Picture - according to the buzz around town - and that candidate is Slumdog Millionaire. It sounds extraordinary, I know, but some people might be hesitant about watching a movie about a young man who is on the verge of winning India's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" but who, through the course of the game, recaps his life growing up as a thief and a "slumdog," and his aspirations to be with the love of his life, who he has barely talked to since he was an orphaned child.
The movie is receiving critical praise from all corners, and the movie, and director Danny Boyle, are almost certainly guaranteed Oscar nominations come 2009. Needless to say, I had high expectations going into the picture, something I try to avoid having whenever possible. Ultimately, I'd have to say Slumdog Millionaire didn't quite reach those expectations, but it's still an excellent and engaging picture. Given that it's a weak year for Oscar-worthy movies thus far, it may also be a frontrunner for the coveted award.
Slumdog Millionaire works on many levels, the most important of which is that it is emotionally engaging. The story may sound goofy, but the fragmented film is played wonderfully by Boyle, who is known for visually stimulating pictures. The movie bounces between the past and present, often jumping ahead years at a time, changing actors as it goes. Still, we get involved in Jamal's story for many reasons, whether it be his attempt to win a game show, his insane childhood, or his love for Latika.
While not mainstream by definition, Slumdog should appeal to the masses, thanks to a fast-paced story and amazing direction by Boyle. While in essence a romance, scene-by-scene it is anything but; in fact, Jamal and Latika barely share a scene together, as they are separated as children and only briefly reunite over the years. Most of the film is about Jamal's journey to modern day, including the death of his mother, his days as a thief, his recruitment into a crime organization and so on and so forth. The story is entertaining, dramatic and at times funny, and should not bore even the most superficial of audience members. To cap everything off, Slumdog is a visual masterpiece, as Boyle (Loveleen Tandan is credited as co-director) makes even the dirtiest of slums gorgeous and colorful. Furthermore, Boyle throws together scenes and colors as if he's an artist throwing paint cans at a wall, yet the result is anything but sloppy. Slumdog Millionaire may be the most visually impressive film of 2008.
The acting all around is pretty solid, too, especially by the young actors. However, there is no breakout performance in the picture, unless you count Freida Pinto emerging as an absolute hottie.
While excellent, I will have to watch the movie a second time to see if it sparks something in me that it didn't do the first go-around. Compared to other movies this year, it is top notch, yet Slumdog Millionaire didn't blow me away. I was expecting something powerful, and instead got something well-done, pretty and intriguing. I think back to American Beauty, which is probably an unfair comparison, yet it's safe to say that Slumdog isn't as good as some movies released in recent years. Still, I don't mean to take away from what Slumdog Millionaire is: an excellent film.
With a rather empty December, I highly recommend Slumdog Millionaire.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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