I'm not sure if I could have chosen a worse time to review the film I'm choosing for today, Slumdog Millionaire. I mean, I'm writing this post-BAFTA and post-Oscar celebrations, where the film has been both lauded and applauded, winning 7 and 8 awards respectively. Well, this review's going to be slightly different to all those one might previously have come across. I'm going to be explosive in my decision to say 'what's all the fuss about?'. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the film, but what I am saying is that I wasn't overly enamored by it - just as everyone else seems to be.
We join Jamal (Dev Patel, the lanky Asian kid from teen-romp Skins), after an appearance on 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?', which has just seen him reach the second highest amount available to him as a contestant, i.e. he's one question away from being a millionaire. Trouble is, as he's an orphan, raised in the slums of Mumbai (a 'slumdog') and now works in a call-centre for a British telephone company (how terribly clichéd), they don't believe he could know the answers without a little bit of assistance.
So, some faction of the Indian police force are called in to deal with the matter, which translates into an opening sequence of various torture methods inflicted on our main protagonist who denies his involvement in any such cough-scam. It's okay though, because the boys in, erm, beige soon realise their bad-cop routine is failing them, and so quickly resort to sympathetic listeners, lending their ears to Jamal's recounting of his life, and how (mostly) unhappy events aided him in his answers to the infamous quiz show. And so begins a series of flashbacks allowing the audience to be transported from the barely air-conditioned interrogation room to the somewhat picturesque view of the slums - it's almost as if Danny Boyle (its director) asked for their roofs to be painted a variety of 'pretty' colours.
It is here too that we are first introduced to both Jamal's elder brother, Salim (later played by Madhur Mittal), and more pertinently Latika (later played by Freida Pinto) - after all it is their story too, particularly the latter of the two. Indeed, Slumdog is unabashed in its telling of a developing love affair between Jamal and Latika - believe me, it lays it on thick - and their constant interruptions to be together, mainly through the thwarting of a corrupted Salim. Inevitably their love proves enduring despite its delay, but the question remains will they finally be together? Is it written, as the opening sequence begs us to question?
Though their tale of romance is at the heart (no pun intended) of Slumdog, nevertheless its description by one critic as "the feel-good movie of the decade" leaves me more than a little uncomfortable - as, notably, it is said to have done for Boyle.
When did a story that encompasses death, the exploitation of young orphans to make money by horrifically blinding them or leading them into prostitution, a ganglord and his vicious cohort, murder, and not forgetting torture, come to be defined as "feel-good"? Especially when, for some, this tale of devastation and despair heavily glossed in a vat of love, is a reality. (It's worth mentioning here that the child actors (Azharuddin Mohamed Ismail, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Rubiana Ali), who lets face it stole the show, were paid a measly $3,000 for their roles; whilst there are reports of Boyle's support of their future education,one can only wonder at the amounts given to the older cast members, when it's grossed $140,000,000 worldwide).
Admittedly Slumdog is not a documentary, nor does it pertain to be so, but shrouding the realities for those living in the slums, the desperation of their situations, in a thin veil of romance and a spot of Bollywood-esque dancing at the end (wait for the credits to roll), whilst pertaining to tired stereotypes of India and its people, hardly seems satisfactory.
Is it truly deserving of all those statues? Or is it overpraised? For me, it's a case of the British industry attempting to rescue its home-reared underdog (it had problems financially and almost didn't make it to cinemas), carving itself some global respect, whilst for the Hollywood big-wigs its proved an opportunity to award something that might appear as exotic and something fresh, which in actual fact is a rehashing of their own narratives and ideologies.
British director, from TV, who started his movie career with two big homegrown hits: Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. His Hollywood efforts suggested he's better when based in the U.K., as both 2005's kids comedy Millions and the hit zombie shocker 28 Days Later were big improvements on his two previous features, A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach.
Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later, then scripted Boyle's ambitious sci-fi epic Sunshine. Boyle next enjoyed worldwide and Oscar success with Slumdog Millionaire, the biggest hit of his career, which he followed with true life survival drama 127 Hours and tricksy thriller Trance, in between staging the 2012 London Olympics to great acclaim. Business biopic Steve Jobs was a flop, however.