It always drives me crazy when a human, be they movie critic or just a lay movie lover like myself, discredits a film by citing the “already been done” clause. Meaning, if the movie resembles another film in writing, acting, directing, storyline, cinematography, music, catering crew, or anything else, it is essentially worthless should the reviewer decide to deem it so. I myself fall into the trap from time to time but at least in most of these cases I follow up the “already been done” clause with the “and it was awful the first time” clause.
The truth is, after 100 something years of major motion pictures, just about everything has been covered. Every movie is borrowing something in some way from some movie from the past. The better movies twist the ground which has already been covered or offer fresh perspectives. But just because a given topic has already been covered doesn’t mean it can’t be covered again. It’s all entertainment. So what if one movie of today borrows from a movie of the 70s? The truth is, the latter movie probably borrowed from a movie of the 60s and that one a movie of the 40s and that one a book from the 19th century.
I say all that to say this: when a movie comes along that IS truly unique, it sticks out. In a sense the film emblazons itself on your memory and you never quite let go of it. A filmmaker that can come up with this unique concept is ahead of the game because it will be favorably compared to any movie that resembles it for the next 30 years. “Slumdog Millionaire” is that movie.
“Slumdog” follows the life of Jamal Malik, a boy who comes from the worst part of India. The footage of life in these slums is sobering and far worse than anything you will ever see in the States. The tiny box homes covered with tin roofs are literally stacked on top of each other and the squalor is painfully obvious in every way. Jamal has come within one correct answer of winning 20 million rupees on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” but is now in custody of the Mumbai police on suspicion of cheating to get to this point. After torture, the investigator goes over each question with Jamal and asks him to explain how he knew the answer. Each question results in a flashback to a period of Jamal’s life as a “slumdog” and brings together a snapshot of his life through ten different stories.
I’m not going to say another word about the content of the film. Because this is such a unique film it should be experienced by the viewer with the minimal amount of information possible going in. It is a refreshing and sobering piece that should be a “must-see” for any movie lover.
The acting, done by an entirely Indian cast, is phenomenal. From Dev Patel who plays the role of Jamal as a young man, to the work of game show host Anil Kapoor (think an Indian Regis Philbin), the actors display the type of discipline and dedication to the profession that is sometimes lacking in Hollywood. Even the children who play the youngest versions of Jamal and his brother are engaging, talented, and endearing while giving the kind of work that most directors would kill to have from their American child actors. Despite the spectacular filmmaking it has produced over the last few years, Bollywood (the Indian film industry) has been fairly unsuccessful in its attempts to breakthrough into the consciousness of the mainstream public. “Slumdog” is, in a sense, a proclamation of arrival. If the public won’t come to Bollywood, perhaps Bollywood will just come to us.
Danny Boyle, one of the most underrated and brilliant directors in Hollywood today, has crafted a magnificent film that manages to touch just about every emotion within the spectrum. It is funny at times, touching at others, poignant for a moment and then heartbreaking, but thoroughly entertaining and genuine throughout. Boyle made a name for himself in the early 90s with “Trainspotting” and became a big name with 2002’s “28 Days Later” but has never quite gotten the respect he deserves until now. This is his masterpiece, his shining moment. And if the success of his film brings new audiences to his work the whole of “Movieland” has been bettered.
“Slumdog” is not for the faint of heart. There are some tough, gruesome scenes and this movie is, after all, primarily about the life of abject poverty in a foreign country. But the viewer who can handle a few hard moments will be rewarded with an extremely good and genuinely powerful film that is sure to be copied a hundred times over the next 30 years.