Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

The most inexplicably popular movie of all time? Danny Boyle's alleged "fairy tale" about modern India (2008) won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival and a slew of Oscars, but I haven't a clue as to what's supposed to be so appealing about it. The story--about an orphan from Mumbai who becomes a contestant on the Indian spin-off of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"--is willfully unpleasant and dull, in that order. I'm sure some of the horrors depicted in the film's early scenes (most of them involving very young children) actually do happen in India, but others are purely the invention of the filmmakers. (Do the cops in India really torture people with beatings and electricity when they get too many right answers on a game show?) Once the characters manage to escape the worst of it, however, this quickly turns into a rather banal love story, with the hero going on the game show so he can win enough money to support his long lost true love, a gangster's girlfriend. As in the most brain-dead of romantic comedies, this is one of those movies where the two leads fall in love only because the plot requires it. The script by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty [1997]) is nominally audacious in its cross-cutting between three different timeframes, and I was never bored, but I was never all that engaged, either. The film has a slick, commercial look--grainy, high contrast cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle (Dogville [2003]), bright colours and more canted angles than you can shake a stick at--that makes this a kissing cousin to Fernando Meirelles' City of God (2002). And it ends with a surprisingly lackluster Bollywood dance number tacked on to the closing credits, which I guess goes to show that the worst horrors imaginable can be made palatable to a mass audience, so long as (spoiler alert!) everyone gets rich in the end. There's a broad swipe at the U.S. when two tourists offer the hero "a taste of the real America" in the form of a hundred dollar bill, as if money solved everything, but that's exactly what the film is saying. (It's the pot calling the kettle black.) Ironically, Boyle's enchanting and underrated family film, Millions (2004), was a lot more tough-minded about capitalism, and more entertaining to boot.

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