Slumdog Millionaire: ** 3/4 (out of 4)
Today's Right Thing To Do: rather than watch the Oscars, I went to see the Big Winner. It seemed more satisfying. It was, of course, written.
Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of two brothers growing up in the slums of Mumbai. It is a story of poverty, crime, prostitution and mendication, torture and corruption, and a variety of other painful-to-watch acts; but somehow, perhaps by not dwelling on these points, it's less of a story of pain than a story of hope and survival.
Part of this - the part that caught the world's interest, and led to its Oscar win - is that the story is told as a series of flashbacks from the younger brother, Jamal, in between his two appearances on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. When the movie begins, Jamal has just won 10,000,000 rupees, out of a possible 20M. In so doing, he has not only become a Hero of the People, but has also come to the attention of the police. How could a man like this - young, poor, of low caste (presumably - the caste thing wasn't emphasized) - have known the answers to all of those questions?
Myself, I found the framing device frustrating; reality television irks me on its own, let alone the reality-game-show genre that is currently in vogue. Just like the real shows, the device adds tension for tension's sake. And this is a shame, because the actual story is compelling on its own.
The third player in the two brothers' lives is a girl, Latika, who came from the same slum. Salim spends his time trying to take care of himself, when possible, his brother; Jamal spends his time trying to take care of Latika, and when possible, Salim, with himself at the rear. The dynamic is more traditional on its face - a love triangle with its roots in childhood - but plays out interestingly, and darkly, and with fewer of the Hollywood trappings, thanks to the simple fact that this is told with the influence of Bollywood. Yes, there is a song-and-dance number.
Slumdog tells a simple story, and tells it well. The Indian cultural bits were fascinating; the reality television bits, less so. I'm not sure if I'd agree that it's worthy of Best Picture of the Year, but it was a good movie. And it was certainly better than watching Hugh Jackman in a tux.