Slumdog Millionaire – A movie in review

My mother is plugged into the independent arthouse movie scene, so she’s always seeing (and raving about) movies that I’ve never heard about. Yesterday, my cousin from New York City was in town, so we took the opportunity to see Slumdog Millionaire at the artsy movie theater in Bethesda, Maryland. I knew precisely nothing about it going in. Since I’m kind of short on blogging ideas at the moment, I think I’ll write up a little review of it.

Slumdog Millionaire is about a boy rising from abject poverty in the slums of Mumbai to become a hero of the people through his unexpected success on the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”. Shots of the high-tension proceedings at the game show are interspersed with scenes of previous experiences from the main character’s life showing the unlikely experiences he lived through that left him knowing all of the answers to the questions on the game show. The game show is actually a nifty plot element that sounds like it could come off corny, but doesn’t.

Overall, Slumdog Millionaire is a good movie. It tugs all of the requisite emotional heartstrings, and it proceeds at a pace that never left me wondering “When is this thing going to end?” (which I find to be the hallmark of a bad movie). It uses lots of tropes you’ve seen many times before in cinema: poverty, destiny, karma, love, evil, manipulation of children, religious warfare, a look at how a man turns evil and then redeems himself with his dying moment, etc., but doesn’t feel like a stale retread. I dare say some of it was even slightly cliché, or at least nonsensical, like when two hitmen are subduing their boss’s wife — who isn’t even putting up much of a fight — and nevertheless manage to give her a good slice on the cheek while fumbling around with a knife, solely with the apparent purpose of having a symbolic scar for the main character to dismiss in one of the final scenes of the movie.

The movie’s tone is quite sad, with scene after scene of crushing poverty, slum life, religious warfare, criminality, police corruption, abuse of orphans, and life on the run. It has a few humorous moments, but it’s overwhelmingly sorrowful, and despite concluding on a somewhat happy note, I was still feeling very downbeat upon leaving the theater. In this regard it was much like The Pursuit of Happyness. So if you don’t handle sad movies well, you might want to give it a pass. Otherwise, I’d recommend it.

Oh, and the Bollywood-style dancing during the credits (despite the movie not being a musical whatsoever) was unexpected and awesome.

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