Thursday, September 11, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008)

Love conquers all, including all suspense, in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, a feel-good movie that puts the audience through extended torture, child abuse and a foray into desperate poverty in order to have them arrive at a predetermined, uplifting conclusion. India is presented as some sort of distorted parody of Britain here, ready for Western consumption. There’s a distinctly Dickensian plot, a scene that jokes about how Indian call center workers learn of the geography of Scotland, the familiar game show referenced in the title, and the British director, who ensures that the style and subject matter matches the built-in assumptions about India as closely as possible. Cheap, folksy moments abound. Under the guise of furthering cultural understanding, the film simply transplants our hero narrative to their culture. While such a treatment might be mildly preferable to something like The Love Guru, it still feels like an attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Throughout Slumdog Millionaire, the audience’s intelligence is underestimated by a film that hopes to get by on charm alone.

Casting an impressively broad narrative net, Slumdog uses a structure that initially seems clever, but quickly grows repetitive and contrived. The premise involves a game show guest who appears on the show in an attempt to attract the attention of his childhood sweetheart, who is being held in an abusive relationship by a gangster. As providence would have it, this barely educated scamp turns out to know the answer to every question he’s asked, thanks to a wide range of misadventures which not only taught him street smarts, but also trivia answers. Numerous extended flashbacks are provided to provide the character’s back story, and to show specifically where the boy learned each factoid.

It’s a weak setup, but Boyle throws everything he’s got at it in an attempt to make it work. Shot digitally, Slumdog fully embraces the music video aesthetic. Subtitles are superimposed around the screen as if we were watching a Powerpoint presentation. The loud score if filled with Indian-fusion hip-hop. Visually, the film aims for sensory overload, with a color palette that is a garish blur and many oddly canted camera angles. Such flashiness is expected, it seems, to distract from the plotting which is stupidly implausible, but convinced that more is most definitely more.

Rating: 38/100

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