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January 07, 2009

Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Scene from Slumdog Millionaire

Last night I was one of the lucky few to see new film Slumdog Millionaire a few days before its main release.

And I mean few.

Sat in a Midlands cinema, in an area with a fairly large Asian population, I was surprised to find myself surrounded by only around ten people. This was a public preview, advertised in all the places a big cinema chain usually advertises which films it’s showing.

Millionaire is released on the same day as Defiance, a film starring James Bond and Billy Elliot. That film has received far more press coverage.

It has me worried for Slumdog Millionaire’s chances of commercial success.

Its critical success, however, seems assured. It is, already, the favourite to pick up the Academy Award for Best Film.

So I went along thinking this would be the best British film I’d seen in years. I left thinking that it probably was, but that it had also been a little overhyped.

Slumdog Millionaire is a great film. But it left me a little cold at times. The main character, Jamel (played by Dev Patel and others), is using a world-renowned game show to make contact with the love of his life. He’s not in it for the money, but leaves 20,000,000 rupees richer. The jackpot.

Jamel’s is a great story, brilliantly told on the streets of Mumbai by director Danny Boyle. Yet I felt like there were gaps in his emotional journey. How does he end up in the low-paying call centre job he finds himself in? What drives him to steal from tourists? Why does he try to save the girl of his dreams, but not others who he knows were tortured?

The setting for much of the film – the studio of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire – also left me uneasy. Sometimes it felt like too much of a plug. Celador, who own the game show, also made the film.

But there are scenes of brilliance. The first will bring accusations that Danny Boyle has a fetish for disgusting toilet scenes. The last will bring accusations of pastiche, although I thought it was the most memorable credits sequence I’ve ever seen.

Mumbai, the city, is the true star of the film. Boyle shows it change dramatically over the course of Jamel’s life, although underlying that is the message that ‘some things never change’.

American reviewers have been completely swept away by the film. The LA Times calls it: “the best old-fashioned audience picture of the year”. The Wall Street Journal calls it “the film world’s first globalized masterpiece”.

The best review I read began:

Cancel whatever you’re doing tonight and go see “Slumdog Millionaire” instead.

That reviewer was spot on. Slumdog Millionaire is the best British film in a decade. A masterpiece, though? Maybe I need a second viewing once the hype – even if it is only stateside – has subsided.


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