Slumdog Millionaire is the latest effort by director Danny Boyle, a man who never seems content to stick to one genre. His recent work spans science fiction (Sunshine), fantasy/drama (Millions), and horror (28 Days Later). Well, I guess Slumdog Millionaire could exist in the same genre as Millions, but they both approach the material from vastly different directions. The earlier film follows a young boy who has conversations with saints as he tries to do the right thing with a large sum of money that has literally fallen into his lap. This new film involves millions in money, but is much more about fate, destiny, and love.
Going into Slumdog Millionaire I had heard all sorts of good things. I successfully avoided any real details aside from the obvious Who Wants to be a Millionaire? connection. So in I went, ready to see if the experience lived up to the hype that has been building around it. The lights went down, the screen flickered to life, and then, in the blink of an eye, it was over. Two hours had passed in what seemed like a much shorter time. There was a cheerful smile plastered across my face and I felt better having seen what had just flashed before my eyes.
What I found most amazing about this movie is how conventional the plot is. There is nothing particularly special about the story nor about the linear fashion in which it plays out. In that sense it is not a great film. However, despite the standard romantic drama tropes danced out onto the screen in that linear fashion it is a great film. Why is it a great film? Well, there is a subjective question. There is no easy way to explain this. For one there is a great energy and explosiveness to the tale, it is in constant motion. There is the emotionally charged relationship of the central characters, and the beauty of fantasy as fate plays out on the screen.
Something that I have noticed over the years and have seen discussed a few times is the increasing number of films that have super-serious and/or depressing subject matter that receive critical acclaim while the number of feel good movies are either relegated to family viewing or ignored by the critical community at large. It may be an over-generalization, but it seems to be at least a little accurate. The movies that tend to get the critic community buzzing are usually thoughtful, introspective films with plenty of tragedy that remain with you long after the credits end. Just take a look at films like Million Dollar Baby, Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Babel, Munich, Mystic River... heck, even The Dark Knight. There are not as many films that will leave you smiling. It is this that helps make Slumdog Millionaire stand out. It is a movie that will definitely draw you in, make you smile, and give you just a little bit of fantastical, romantic hope.