Review: Slumdog Millionaire Solid, but Doesn't Justify the Hype

"I had been expecting cinematic fireworks to justify the claim that it's the best movie of the new millennium."

 

I'd heard a lot of hype about Slumdog Millionaire before I finally got the chance to see it. Now that I have, I'm a little baffled over what all the hullaballoo was about. Not that the movie from director Danny Boyle isn't satisfying, isn't more than worth seeing. But I had been expecting cinematic fireworks to justify the claim that it's the best movie of the new millennium. Sorry, but it doesn't even come close to earning that title, or for my money a place in a "Twenty Best Films of the New Millennium" list. Boyle, who has consistently impressed me with flicks like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Sunshine, deserves plenty of praise for his work, but I don't think it ranks next to any of the movies I just listed -- or even his debut gem, Shallow Grave.

Dev Patel is one of the three actors who plays street hoodlum (or "slumdog") Jamal over the course of his childhood. (Patel is the eldest incarnation at an on-screen 18 years old.) Despite being an uneducated nobody employed as a tea runner at a cellular phone company, he has managed to wind up on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? where the host Prem (Anil Kapoor) expects him to crash and burn quickly. Inexplicably, though, Jamal begins knocking question after question back, rising all the way to 10 million rupees and only one correct answer away from the grand prize of 20 million rupees. His reward? He's arrested, interrogated and then tortured in an attempt to get the slumdog to disclose how he's been cheating. Not even doctors and lawyers have done as well as him, so there must be an explanation. And there is. In fact, the explanation is the story of Slumdog Millionaire; Jamal explains to the police, question after question, how his tragic life experiences provided him the answers.

Boyle deserves credit for pulling off a successful third act, something he doesn't often accomplish (Sunshine being the worst offender), but I spent too much of the movie sick to my stomach to find the conclusion as uplifting as so many others have. My girlfriend, who saw it with me, agreed. We enjoyed ourselves, felt our humanity was reaffirmed a little bit, but, mostly, we just felt glad we weren't born in Mumbai.

Grade: B