Monday, January 05, 2009

1/6/09: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

I had been under the impression that this was an indie film made on the cheap in Mumbai, and that it had really connected with movie audiences and critics alike. I was expecting kind of a feel-good type of feature, but nothing could have prepared me for how truly gruesome, nauseating, violent and profoundly distasteful much of the first two-thirds of this movie is. It's a particular quirk of mine to be turned off by depictions of children in peril, and more than half of Slumdog focuses on chidren living amid poverty, filth, garbage, crime and such abhorrent conditions that I found myself repeatedly having to look away from the screen. (In one scene, the child protagonist is compelled to wade through a giant pile of human waste; another shows us how another boy is deliberately blinded to make him a profitable beggar. And that's just for starters.) I suppose Slumdog's portrayal of kids living in poverty is an accurate one, but the sheer gruesomeness of it was relentlessly repulsive to both me and Joan, my faithful movie companion. The adults in the movie don't fare much better; a young woman's face is slashed with a razor, a teenage boy is repeatedly tortured, first by being nearly drowned, then electrocuted. There are also numerous killings by handgun, including one murder carried out by a child. The film is terribly potent and brutal.

Having said all that, the final third of the movie lightens up just long enough for a satisfying payoff—a surprisingly corny Hollywood ending. (Thank God; I'd have felt cheated without it.) Despite being occasionally difficult to watch, the film is stylistically brilliant and deserves its universally great reviews, thanks in no small part to the first-rate direction, excellent performances and extraordinary script. My review does not reflect the quality of the movie—just my excessive squeamishness. With Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor and Freida Pinto, a real standout as the immensely beautiful grownup Latika. Rating: 2/5.

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