Friday, December 19, 2008

Slumdog: A Film Review

We went to see "Slumdog Millionaire," the new Danny Boyle movie that has caused such a stir and proved such a surprise hit in the theaters.

Deservedly so. I had heard only the light part of the story--the poor boy from the slums of Mumbai winning millions on a television game show. I had read no reviews, so I was unprepared for the dark side: the police brutality, the slum children eking out a living in the filth of garbage dumps, their exploitation as beggars and prostitutes by unscrupulous men, the murderous underworld of mafia-like gangs... At this level, the movie is a story of survival against all odds, the street smarts of bright young "artful dodgers" who learn how to trick the system. It's also the Cain and Abel story of two brothers, themselves the reflection of the dark and the light--the one who from desperation turns to crime, the other incorruptible. And on a more sentimental level, it's about the triumph of impossibly romantic love.

The movie is intricately constructed out of several interwoven threads: the television show, with its scheming, ego-driven host; the police headquarters, where officials try to wring out from the hero a confession of cheating, first with torture, then beatings, and finally with the slowly dawning realization that he had earned the knowledge of his answers through the experience of his life; and the story behind each of those answers with flashbacks to his childhood and young teenage years. The scenes of the game show itself, as the young man moves from lucky naive to idolized folk here, are actually gripping; while we know in advance that his answers will be the right ones, we're held at the edge of our seats with the suspense of waiting.

We know, too, that our hero will get his girl in the end. How could he not? They have been "meant for each other" since childhood, when violence and brutality brought their lives together with all the strange inevitability of randomly clashing forces. The sentimentality of the lovers' eventual, improbable reunion in the movie's closing scene, despite all obstacles along the way, is tempered by the unexpected explosion of a credits sequence in which Hollywood transmutes magically into Bollywood in a scene of wildly choreographed ecstatic dance on the platform of the Mumbai train station--ah yes, alas, that same one where gunmen came a few weeks back to randomly unload their assault weapons into crowds of commuters... But that's another story. Or is it?

A finely-constructed narrative, great parts played by a terrific cast of actors... (take a look at these beautiful young people!)

along with action and suspense, all freighted with a serious undertow of social criticism and personal inner conflict--these make for a rare and rewarding experience at the cinema. I say, go see, if you haven't done already.


Anonymous said...

I am thinking about it, but have such a low tolerance for violence in movies - how violent is it?

PeterAtLarge said...

Ellie is much like you. She says she covered her eyes at moments, briefly, but remained much engaged in the action. There are a few scenes where you'd likely want to do the same. Not sure, otherwise, how to quantify the violence!