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SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008) - Charles Dickens in India

By RRA - Posted on 04 February 2009

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008) - ***1/2 out of 5

"It is Written."

After my screening ended, the audience applauded. When was the last time you been to the movies and your rather large crowd honestly clapped, as if they thought the film deserved it?

I had great bad vibes about SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, especially after KNIGHT got shut out of most major Oscar nominations. What must be the appeal with SLUMDOG? There were so many conspiracy theories out there on the Interet, in trying to compare with previous winning scenarios. Were Academy voters/Limousine Liberals wanting to feel good about themselves by celebrating a picture making an issue out of foreign poverty (like CRASH with racism?) Did some silly folks confuse run-of-the-mill foreign storytelling with exotic quality because they lacked an adequete frame of cinema context from that nation? (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON?) Plus, me and director Danny Boyle haven't been on the best of terms, whatever its his silly pointless attempt to arty legitimize the Romero zombie movies (they already were) with 28 DAYS LATER or his infamous THE BEACH fiasco.

Now I understand why SLUMDOG is favored to win the Oscar, for it's now like ROCKY was back in 1976. That particular rich year gave us reel classics like Martin Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER, Sidney Lumet's NETWORK, and Alan Pakula's ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. I still think any of them should have won Best Picture, and yet I've never really had a serious problem with the ROCKY victory because it was an earnest feel-good drama. Alot of us movie buffs are just so used to despising hollow "uplifting" packages, usually because they simply don't deserve that artificial happy ending, but when we get genuine honest pictures that do earn that finale, like ROCKY or THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, my heart is there.

The cynic in me before SLUMDOG would have sneered that with the awful economy, several wars and endless hostilities, people may have been geared up for such a well-timed Charles Dickens story. I still keep that opinion, but why was the Obama Inauguration from weeks ago such an unprecedented national party, even in parts of America that voted against him? Because it was an ardent opportunity for which we could celebrate ourselves, whatever as Americans or not.

Several Indian friends of mine have derided SLUMDOG as a dime-a-dozen story often told in Bollywood, and only honored it because a British director was involved, and also we goofy westerners have never previously really taken seriously Indian cinema, and they do have a point because we don't hold them on the same level as we might with European or Japanese works. Plus, how many of you have seen the works of say Satyajit Ray? I haven't. We simply dismiss Indian pictures with the popular Bollywood stereotype, that they all are a lightweight, all-dancing musical gay time at the movies. Thankfully, no such sequences occur in SLUMDOG until the credits. Sooner and I probably would have thrown my shoe at the screen, for it definately would have been absolutely inappropriate within the narrative.

I guess I'm then woefully ignorant about Indian movies, which I apologize because I quite liked SLUMDOG. Yes it holds no surprises at all, but with only a particular number of stories always told in cinema (what, 23 or 24?), I say that if a picture hits all the right formula moments, it'll always succeed every darn time. SLUMDOG seem to be successful with my audience at least, who were gripped with the high and lows, and cheered after the all-or-nothing climax.

Hell, a Dickens-esque tale is probably more appropriate for modern India, for that country is much more social class-concious than Victorian England ever was. But like that epoch, contemporary India and their billion people are on the surface becoming a global cultural (Bollywood), financial (corporatized urban centres), and military superpower (they have nuclear weapons),  which SLUMDOG conflicts nicely in great contrast with the impoverished and overfilled street nation where social justice is denied and which is quite frankly ignored by the upper-classes who are too busy watching game shows and football or driving BMWs. Amazing how as a nation, they have such great (well-deserved) hatred at the British for what those imperialists did to their country, yet their well-off seem as snobbish, elitist, and "cultured" as the Limeys.

 A good scene is when the middle-class cop mocks the hero (Dev Patel) for being clueless about such an obvious question about the country's flag and not recognizing Gandhi, then which the kid quizes the policeman about the local "ground," which he is glaringly ignorant about. My favorite shot though is when his older gangster brother who before a fateful confrontation, fills his bathtub full of money which he then jumps into, as if that's what he felt his life always revolved around. That's something you would have expected in SCARFACE, no?

So like a Dickens urban melodrama, the kid is born into dire straits and suffers tragedies but with wits, luck, and keeping his essence of goodness, he ultimately triumphs after a lengthy epic journal where has has adventures in confronting utterly good and utterly bad characters, and maybe even an acquitance of his who has a change of heart to do the right thing at the right time. What I dug though was when as a boy, the hero is locked in the latrines as his favorite Bollywood movie star is nearby. The kid is determined at all costs to get that all-important scribble from his hero, so Like Tim Robbins in SHAWSHANK, he crawls through all that feces. I mean it's blunt sublety, but it's a nice quick visual summation of SLUMDOG that this guy will always persevere no matter the odds against him as he chases throughout his life for this one girl.

Now one misconception I had heading into SLUMDOG was that the guy got onto the Indian version of WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? because he cheated, but more like he used basic logic and certain questions tied coincidentally into previous episodes of his which aide him. Folks, Dickens was never called realistic for a reason. I doubt he would have done so well on THE PRICE IS RIGHT, with their fictional and unrealistic suggested retail pricings for cars, dish washers, and Hawaiian vacations. He definately would have bombed on JEOPARDY! though, but maybe win WHEEL OF FORTUNE.

Is SLUMDOG as technically well-shot and made as David Fincher's BENJAMIN BUTTON? No. Is it as well-round packaged overall as THE DARK KNIGHT? Oh No. It's just going to be a sad casualty like what happened to JUNO last year. You know, an unimpeachable pretty good little picture that gets overhyped and overloved, which reachs a breaking point and a severe backlash then erupts against it because it was labeled as the best or important.

Forget the Oscars, forget THE DARK KNIGHT snub, forget all the Internet bullsnot. Ignore all that loudnoise, accept for better or for worse what SLUMDOG is, and maybe you'll end up clapping yourself, and afterwards wonder how the hell Ron Howard got nominated again.

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