Monday, December 22, 2008

An Upbeat Story from Hell

Saturday night, I caught "Slumdog Millionaire," the excellent new drama by director Danny Boyle of "Trainspotting" fame.

Based on the book "Q & A" by Vikas Swarup, the film follows the struggle-filled life of a poor young man from Mumbai, India, who becomes a contestant on the Indian version of the television game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?".

The story is creatively told through flashbacks between each of the game show questions.

As of this writing, "Slumdog Millionaire" has a 93 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which is well-deserved. I may have been most impressed by the ability of the movie's creators to show the living conditions of lower-caste India while still managing to entertain. "Slumdog Millionaire" is political without being political. And, oh yeah, there's a love story.

In her New York Times review, Manohla Dargis puts it well:

"By all rights the texture of Jamal’s life should have been brutally coarsened by tragedy and poverty by the time he makes a grab for the television jackpot. But because “Slumdog Millionaire” is self-consciously (perhaps commercially) framed as a contemporary fairy tale cum love story, or because Mr. Boyle leans toward the sanguine, this proves to be one of the most upbeat stories about living in hell imaginable. It’s a life that begins in a vast, vibrant, sun-soaked, jampacked ghetto, a kaleidoscopic city of flimsy shacks and struggling humanity and takes an abrupt, cruel turn ... "

Cyd Zeigler liked this one, too. He concludes, "If you like a moving story that highlights the fortitude of the human spirit, you must see this movie."

The USCCB movie critic agrees: "As the portrait of a man who encounters evil in many forms yet remains fundamentally innocent, and who gains wisdom from all he endures, "Slumdog Millionaire" is an exhilarating celebration of humane values."

And, Christian: "The movie literally makes you cry and cheer. It's painful and brilliant."

While the lack of any known American actors in this film's cast may somewhat hurt its chances, I think "Slumdog Millionaire" should be a strong contender for the Oscar for best film of 2008.

It's certainly on my list of favorites.

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