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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 15.17%
Average: 8.99%
Pretty Bad: 16.85%
Total Crap: 14.04%

7 reviews, 136 user ratings

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Slumdog Millionaire
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by David Cornelius

"A garish mess, and that's my final answer."
2 stars

“Slumdog Millionaire” is being marketed as a feel-good fairy tale, but the upbeat ending comes after two hours of feel-bad turmoil. But it’s not even good feel-bad turmoil; the ugliness (both emotional and physical) is weakly contrived, and director Danny Boyle brings a distracting visual bombast not seen in his work since “Trainspotting,” overwhelming the story with unnecessary flourishes that put off the viewer even more.

The film is adapted from Vikas Swarup’s novel “Q and A,” and it’s surprising to see writer Simon Beaufoy’s name on the screenplay. His beloved script for “The Full Monty” was an exercise in sweet simplicity and gentle personal humor; his “Slumdog” screenplay, meanwhile, is noisy, clumsy, and overly busy. There are stretches where the script seems to get in a screaming match with itself - which scene can grate the loudest?

We follow various interwoven stories, all involving the troubled life of Jamal Malik (played in various stages of his young life by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Hemant Chheda, and Dev Patel), a former street urchin from Mumbai who now earns a living serving tea at a local call center. The hook is that Jamal just won ten million rupees on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” (presented here in English, as is much of the movie; the dialogue switches from English to Hindi at seemingly random, illogical times, but I suppose that makes more sense than having the game show broadcast live, which reveals either a vast poetic license or a naïve understanding of how television works), making him a national hero on the eve of his final appearance, and the top twenty million rupee question. Between shows, Jamal is kidnapped by the police, who attempt to torture him into admitting that he’s cheating.

Ah, but he’s not cheating. Instead, he’s just had the dumb luck of having every question asked relate to a specific experience in his miserable life. As the police replay the videotape of each question, Jamal flashes back (and forth, and back again, and so on) to his days in the slums. Here, we get an update on “Oliver Twist,” with the boy and his older brother Salim watching their mother die at the hands of a mob; they later team up with a cartoonish Fagin who rules with an iron fist - he even blinds children to make them more pitiable on the streets. Eventually, the two escape and make their way to the Taj Mahal, where they steal shoes and charge gullible tourists for phony tours of the place.

There’s something honest about the revelation that Jamal and Salim have never seen, or even heard of, the Taj Mahal. It’s a smart moment illustrating the cultural and educational divide in India. But the script squanders this notion all too quickly, jumping instead to a quickly-paced bit of lightheartedness in which the brothers abandon their awe and curiosity and use their quick street wits to scam tourists, a jokey segment that doesn’t quite charm the way it wants. The film has a depressing lack of interest in the few interesting portions of its own story.

Throughout his adventures, Jamal regrets abandoning his sweetheart, Latika. He sets off to find her, saving her from the clutches of the same Fagin they long ago escaped. But Salim, who has grown bitter and violent, takes Latika for himself. Years later, Salim (Madhur Mittal) is a top man in the Mumbai mafia, Latika (Freida Pinto) toils for the crime boss, and Jamal sets out to find them both once more.

All of this implies rags-to-riches sweetness, with Jamal and Latika uniting at long last. But such a triumph is held until the final few minutes, when we’re tossed a crummy faux-uplifting rush-to-your-side finale straight out of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. (The closing credits, meanwhile, feature a big jokey Bollywood dance number, marking one of the most schizophrenic endings in modern cinema history. What is this, “The 40 Year Old Virgin”? How in the world does this movie think it deserves a self-mocking sing-along credits sequence?) Until that finale, we’re given piles of cheap melancholy and overplayed drabness, a sort of “look how miserable these people have it” melodrama whose very smugness and shoddiness prevent us from caring about these characters.

This is not to say there’s no good drama to be found in this situation; on the contrary, a great story could surely be told about these slums, and the nation’s harsh line between the haves and have-nots. But Beaufoy packs his screenplay with caricatures and lazy formula (the gangsters and hooligans and corrupt cops are all made from the cheapest cliché), while Boyle’s overly kinetic style hampers the human side of the tale. The director once said he hoped to capture the energy that’s present in the slums, but all the energy here feels fake, concocted, untrue: we never get to feel the crackle of human closeness born from poverty, because Boyle never stops jittering his camera, or cutting from past to present to future and back again, or having kids scream. (And oh, how they scream. All that yelling is present to hide the poor performances of the young actors, and if Boyle’s quick cuts won’t give you a headache, these kids will.)

What a story like this requires is a gentle subtlety, but Boyle is certainly not gentle and far from subtle. Here is a film that uses a young boy covered head to toe in liquid human waste for quaint nostalgia. Here is a film that tries to pass off trashy, hackneyed gang-life subplots as genuine human drama. And here is a film that hopes the concocted suspense of a TV game show will supply it with genuine emotional tension. “Slumdog Millionaire” is as gaudy and as shallow as the quiz show that inspired it.

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originally posted: 12/19/08 06:40:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good not great 4 stars
5/17/17 Louise Grips from start to finish! Great soundtrack too. 5 stars
4/20/14 Ewan Lewis Messy... The book is a good-read the movie is terrible...All their is really to say... :/ 1 stars
12/24/11 debbie hodgdon so good i went to the theatre twice and brought a friend 5 stars
12/30/09 terror watch the unusual structure makes it a great film 5 stars
10/26/09 RLan a well done love story. Not best picture worthy, but still a good film. 4 stars
10/22/09 Emma i LOVE this movie. it is my favorite now. i don't think it's shallow or contrived crap... 5 stars
8/18/09 parrot outstanding cinema 5 stars
7/13/09 nic cage this movie is like city of god with a bollywood feel 5 stars
7/07/09 michael mann i personally think this is boyle's best film, diff from trainspotting 5 stars
7/05/09 MP Bartley Colourful but contrived, stylish but shallow; a messy success. 4 stars
7/03/09 roger federer beautiful visuals alone make this a masterpiece 5 stars
6/29/09 blackberry outstanding, outstanding and outstanding 5 stars
6/28/09 will tenner beautiful feel good cinema 5 stars
6/27/09 gandalf very good filmmaking style, cinemaography 5 stars
6/22/09 devastator like a modern update on charles dickens 5 stars
6/22/09 Simon A needed fresh setting of imagery, but trite-gimmicky plot renders themes non-transcendent 4 stars
6/18/09 jurisprudence outstanding story, great editing and cineamtography 5 stars
6/12/09 tung ton deserved oscar; feel good pic yes, great story too 5 stars
6/03/09 Pete Snot A hopelessly contrived mess, simplistic and forgettable. 1 stars
6/03/09 Anannya 1st half great although a bit much. 2nd half ridiculous. Love story protracted and shitty. 4 stars
5/26/09 Anonymous. didn't think it was '08's best picture, but still really good. 4 stars
5/09/09 Disappointed Not moving. Isn't there enough real poverty to find a real story to base this on? Sham. 2 stars
5/04/09 Mac Where is erik and the other quality reviewers? this was amazing. cornelius is the worst. 5 stars
4/29/09 dude easily one of the best movies i've seen last year 5 stars
4/13/09 skinner oustanding direction 5 stars
4/10/09 farrow no the movie is better than the book 5 stars
4/09/09 tarantino one of the best movies ever made. Very well directed 5 stars
4/02/09 conair best movie ever 5 stars
4/01/09 Gorgon Zola Isn't there a law prohibiting this much schmaltz in a movie? 2 stars
4/01/09 Gorgon Zola Maybe they should call the Razzies Oscars and the Oscars Razzies. Would make more sense. 1 stars
3/23/09 Bnorm Great movie. it affected me like every great movie should. 5 stars
3/14/09 mr.mike 4.5 stars 4 stars
3/02/09 Ruben If you want the true Slumdog Millionaire experience read the book. The movie is no match. 2 stars
3/02/09 Koitus I thought it was very well done. Very few "dry eyes" after viewing the ending scene. 5 stars
2/28/09 Elaine first half excellent, second half OK 4 stars
2/26/09 rose Fantastic Movie- worth every award that it got! 5 stars
2/25/09 Dorie One of the most exciting, endearing, satisfying movie I have seen for a long, long time. 5 stars
2/24/09 pm Long , boring , Best picture ? I just do not get it. 1 stars
2/24/09 Vince If this exact movie took place in american ghetto it would have been seen as garbage it is 2 stars
2/23/09 noops.... The name itself is bull shit.... they r not dogs .... damn u danny.... 1 stars
2/23/09 Steven We've all seen this movie before, just not with Indian actors. That itself will fool many. 2 stars
2/23/09 L.C. Liked this movie, but it was not the best of the year. 4 stars
2/21/09 RedBaron Weak plot, weak characters, bad acting (except for the kid actors) 2 stars
2/21/09 Mira Slum kids don't speak English, you fool. Contrived shit. 1 stars
2/20/09 Derkerdog Over-rated to say the least. Shallow and predictable. 1 stars
2/19/09 Obi Wan Saw this after Hype, it was good. Not great. Dark Knight was better, so was Doubt 4 stars
2/12/09 incomepoop like it, esp the last 45 minutes or so, very suspenseful, all the tv watchers 4 stars
2/10/09 Aesop Poverty: bad. Schlock: Good. Like we needed this info. 1 stars
2/09/09 sid2323 Had potential but lost steam; esp with the romance side of things. Kid actors were great! 3 stars
2/08/09 zarf critic seems to think everywher is like the US. movie wasnt demeaning at all. great movie! 5 stars
2/06/09 Alejandro Sosa Out of this word amazing, couldn't take my eyes of the screen. 5 stars
2/04/09 MP Bartley Colourful and vibrant if uneven at the end. 4 stars
2/03/09 dude forgettable, contrived, exploitative, undeserving of grammatically correct comment 2 stars
2/03/09 Piz Love all the negative reviews-it shows how idiotic people are. This movie is outstanding! 5 stars
2/03/09 jcjs33 easily best picture of the year other than 'Rachel Getting Married' , a wowser 5 stars
1/30/09 Alec Walked out after 10 minutes. Not for me . . . 2 stars
1/29/09 Ray Agree with reviewer. This film is overhyped and shallow filled with lazy caricatures/ 3 stars
1/27/09 Luisa Absolutely compelling. Child actors are amazing. Great flick! 5 stars
1/26/09 phillip usually agree with this reviewer. not this time. 5 stars
1/26/09 Marion Pitiful passivity of the slumdog heroine devoid of credibility. Totally ruined it for me. 2 stars
1/25/09 Peta The 1st half of this movie was fantasic; the 2nd half was contrived crap of the worst kind! 1 stars
1/25/09 Pete Painful 1 stars
1/25/09 Anita Hugely entertaining along with outstanding social commentary. Bravo! 5 stars
1/24/09 Iyps I would say it is worth the buck... Energy of the film is great, except few disgusting sce 4 stars
1/24/09 jcjs33 Best Picture along with 'Rachel...'clever, fast, colorful, wow music, real, wonderful 5 stars
1/24/09 Joanne I HATED this movie!! HATED HATED HATED. 1 stars
1/23/09 s. Liked the movie but liked Kite Runner better. Entertaining copy-cat movie. 5 stars
1/23/09 Patrick I enjoyed the movie but it had many flaws. The central love story was implausible. 4 stars
1/23/09 Arif Zaidi Lightening fast pace movie, sparkling colors, terrific camera, superb script. Blockbuster. 5 stars
1/22/09 Randy It's different and I love it for that. Hyped or not it was great! 5 stars
1/22/09 Jason I AGREE THIS FILM SUCKS 2 stars
1/20/09 anusree wonderful............. 5 stars
1/20/09 Judy Had to depart after 10 minutes, too violent 2 stars
1/19/09 g. another great film from danny boyle 5 stars
1/18/09 DJ This Idiot Critic Just Wants Attention 5 stars
1/18/09 zac yea terrible film, let's see, best film Golden Globes,Critic Choice Awards,ETC! 5 stars
1/17/09 Smitty A wonderful love story. Manipulative - yeh - like a Dickens novel and I love to read them. 5 stars
1/16/09 Nick Great movie, loved it, get over your ridiculous pretentions... 5 stars
1/16/09 John Not one character worth caring about. Lucks out and can now buy the unfaithful prostitute. 1 stars
1/16/09 Siva BEST of 2009 5 stars
1/15/09 Jeff Best movie of the year. Original, funny, touching, epic. Should win the Oscar. 5 stars
1/14/09 Ajay K Absurd story-line, phoney love interest 1 stars
1/14/09 Abisha 4 gloden globes, have they gone mad? 1 stars
1/13/09 Louise Involving, colourful, great soundtrack and wonderfully Indian! 5 stars
1/13/09 Rose Very clever how personal experiences resulted in correct answers on TV show. 5 stars
1/10/09 R.W. Welch Jolting look at slum-level life in India. Cleverly plotted. B+ 4 stars
1/09/09 noops.... What westerners want to see abt (poor)India is shown..but A R Rehman's music is awesome... 3 stars
1/09/09 NAC All my friends and family loved it but I did not. The impact of violence was traivialized 3 stars
1/09/09 Stan An okay movie in an era when Hollywood puts out very bad movies. Overhyped? Yes! 3 stars
1/09/09 Rahul S Thanks for a great review. The movie is crap and there are technical flaws aplenty 1 stars
1/09/09 Porter After 1/2 hour of this uber-child abuse film, I up and left! 1 stars
1/07/09 Dana sometimes, suspension of disbelief is needed to appreciate great fiction. lighten up. 5 stars
1/05/09 Lisa Well made, total Hollywood (Bollywood?) cliche. 3 stars
1/05/09 Irv It was manipulative , contrived & quite frankly not well done. 1 stars
1/05/09 Flounder The best picture of the year. It's funny, dramatic, heartbreaking and touching all at once 5 stars
1/04/09 nick clarke Why does a film like this need gentle subtlety? It us a realistic look at India! 5 stars
1/04/09 Waltizzle!!! Completely overrated! Only good after the guy wrote B on the mirror!!! 1 stars
1/02/09 Slamb Thanks for this sensible review. Can't believe so many critics loved it. 2 stars
12/31/08 Robert S Right on. I found it incredibly violent, noisy, nasty, clichd and overdone. 2 stars
12/31/08 Ashish Biswas As a human and as an Indian, I have loved this film. The critic has balls for brains! 5 stars
12/30/08 Macroniche I agree with a lot of your review, however I lived this film just the same 4 stars
12/30/08 Alex One of the better stories I've ever seen told on film...this critic is clearly a moron. 5 stars
12/29/08 B This review is garbage and doesnt make any sense. Movie is amazing!! 5 stars
12/28/08 Patrick I enjoyed this movie very much. Don't fully agree with this critic. 5 stars
12/28/08 marilyn kruse I read so many rave reviews from the critics, but I was unable to get involved in this. 2 stars
12/28/08 Sonie Best Movie I've seen in years, incredibly uplifting 5 stars
12/28/08 Niki Uh what movie did this guy watch?! this movie was amazing. Rich and so real. Worth ur money 5 stars
12/27/08 Melanie M. Best movie I have seen all year. This critic merely looks for things to be insulting about. 5 stars
12/27/08 fred best film of the year 5 stars
12/27/08 Philip Buckley-Mellor One of the best, and oddly realistic, films I've seen 5 stars
12/27/08 AJ Movie was brilliant! Those who dont buy wats shown, visit india, people like Fagin do exist 5 stars
12/26/08 Grace I loved it and thought it was one of the better movies I've seen in a while. 5 stars
12/26/08 Monica I suppose, technically, the reviewer is right. But see it anyways. 4 stars
12/26/08 Mrs. Mom Powerful, interesting, exciting, what more do you want from a film? 5 stars
12/25/08 ROBO I'm a cynic, but I thought this was one terrific movie, best I've seen this year! 5 stars
12/24/08 June totally agree with reviewer...made me anxious and depressed. too mch violence. 3 stars
12/22/08 Houston Ignore the review, go see this movie. It is incredibly interesting and entertaining. 5 stars
12/22/08 Suresh The critic's views are easier to agree if you've seen movies like Salaam Bombay. 3 stars
12/22/08 Karan Puri Another Black & White, stereotypical prtrayal of life in India. Tragic that people buy it. 2 stars
12/20/08 Lawrence This critic takes himself way too seriously. 5 stars
12/20/08 John Back Totally agree-an Indian fairy tale w/violent plot. 2 stars
12/13/08 Mike Gimmicky garbage, I didn't buy any of it. 2 stars
12/11/08 Suzz Very good film with an interesting narrative style. 4 stars
12/11/08 nl The film is good, I enjoyed it. Worth paying for. But, completely agree with the review. 4 stars
12/10/08 Bob Excellent movie, totally worth seeing. Although might be a bit overpraised . . . 4 stars
12/09/08 Jenny Latica was NOT about to lose her virginity, she was having dance lessons!!?? 3 stars
12/08/08 Kacie Exactly right. Flashiness can't hide a sentimental, uninspired love story. 3 stars
12/07/08 dyli Just saw the movie. His review makes complete sense. 4 stars
12/07/08 mpdesign Don't listen to this man or you will miss a great movie 5 stars
12/06/08 Robert Anyone who reads this review should simply disregard it and go see the movie. 5 stars
12/06/08 Igor This guy was watching a different movie. Perfect example of disagreeing for the sake of it. 5 stars
12/05/08 Faye wrong...GREAT MOVIE...gee, don't know what movie could get a 5 star from this person 5 stars
11/14/08 gaurav mittal good 5 stars
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  12-Nov-2008 (R)
  DVD: 31-Mar-2009


  DVD: 31-Mar-2009

Directed by
  Danny Boyle

Written by
  Simon Beaufoy

  Dev Patel
  Anil Kapoor
  Irfan Khan
  Freida Pinto

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