Oscar Week: Slumdog Millionaire (Ryan’s Take)


Is it weird that among this year’s best picture directors are the guys who did Alien , Edtv, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and 28 Days Later?

Okay, the director of The Reader doesn’t have any embarrassing IMDb credits, but ironically that’s the worst of the nominees. The best, in my opinion, is zombie aficionado Danny Boyle’s work: Slumdog Millionaire.

"You can take the Golden Globe and go home, or keep playing for the grand prize."

"You can take the Golden Globe and go home, or keep playing for the grand prize."

As I’ve indicated in my previous Oscar posts, this year’s best picture candidates are a collection of good stories elevated by outstanding performances. There is nothing intrinsically Oscar worthy about Frost/Nixon, only Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, and Sam Rockwell push it to that level. This film is the exception. While its acting is generally strong, Slumdog earns its seat at the table by just being a damn good movie.

The premise is that Jamal, a kid from India who has been poor all his life, becomes a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” The film opens as he is being tortured by police who are suspicious of his success on the show and accuse of him of cheating. To prove his innocence, he explains (through flashback) the events in his life that led to the knowledge he needed to answer each question correctly.

It’s a pretty wacky concept, which is why it’s great that it’s grounded by a strong emotional story: Jamal’s lifelong search for the girl he’s loved since childhood. This isn’t just a humorous series of vignettes from Jamal’s life that coincidentally drop the answers to trivia questions in his lap (though it’s that too), it’s the story of two people who want to be together, but are repeatedly and cruelly separated by fate. The gameshow gimmick is the framework that gets the film moving, but you’ll gradually forget about the money and become more invested in whether these kids finally find a way to be together.

It’s shockingly well-executed. The film moves like a dance, seamlessly flowing back and forth through various stages of Jamal’s life to the rhythm of an excellent score by Bollywood composer A. R. Rahman. The twists in the story are unpredictable, the characters are well-defined and memorable, and the ending is supremely satisfying

Slumdog coupleDon’t worry, I’ve got nitpicks. You’re going to have to accept the fairy tale conceit that two children can fall in love at first sight and love no one else until reuniting well into adulthood. It’s occasionally jarring the way the movie switches from fun and over the top to gritty and serious.

And for some odd reason, in this otherwise expertly edited film, the opening fifteen minutes really drags. But that’s what the gameshow thing is for, to convince you to stick with the movie long enough for it to get going. Once it does, all is forgiven.

I can’t think of a person to whom I wouldn’t recommend Slumdog Millionaire. It’s not a movie that will change your life, but it is one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had in a movie theater for a while (not counting that thing I was arrested for). And it’s certainly my pick for best picture of 2008.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆
9 out of 10

4 Responses to “Oscar Week: Slumdog Millionaire (Ryan’s Take)”

  • Tiff Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I loved this movie. As a writer, I myself fancy a great story and I think Slumdog Millionaire was just that: An pretty well-told great story. There will always be a place in my heart for campy horror films, foul-mouthed comedies, crazy-awesome action films with over-the-top effects, and—though I hate to admit it—the occasional predictable romantic comedy, but when the story itself is able to make me think and to move me, I feel like I’ve gotten back to cinematic basics.

    When a film can prove to me that you don’t need a roster of high-profile celebs or a ton of special effects to have a great theater experience, simply because the film tells a great story, I always walk out of the theater with that much more respect for the film.

    Which is exactly what happened after seeing Slumdog.

  • Dave Says:

    Neither of you saw the wrestler, I can tell. I loved Slumdog, but thought the wrestler was more real. It gets my vote (if it was in the running)

  • Ryan Says:

    Yeah, that’s the thing, Dave, The Wrestler didn’t make the list and I was only considering movies that did. In reality I’d put WALL-E in the running too. But you’re right, I have not seen The Wrestler and really need to.

  • cmwillis Says:

    This movie did change my life (no longer pimping child-beggars) but most importantly, I think it captured some grit and reality from India. The kids actually came from the slum pictured which is where the a large portion of Indians live. This film made a lot of people happy for telling a portion of their story. Their celebration after the Oscars was uplifting as well.