Today I saw Slumdog Millionaire, starring Dev Patel and Irrfan Khan.
I have mixed emotions about this story, perhaps because I went in expecting too much or maybe because its distinction is earning it an exorbitant amount of praise.
The setting is an Indian ghetto so horrific it's hard to watch. Our main character Jamal (Patel) has just made it to a record high on the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" and been arrested under suspicion of cheating. His interrogator, played by the always-great Irrfan Khan, repeatedly orders his policeman to torture Jamal until he finally realizes those tactics aren't doing any good, and decides to listen to what his captor insists is the truth.
This leads to the audience getting a virtual flashback into Jamal's entire childhood, which includes unspeakable suffering and eventually a forced separation from his brother and would-be girlfriend. Explaining why he's telling all of these life stories would somewhat spoil the film, but I can say that the screenwriter ties everything up in a very clever way.
There is also an unmistakable authenticity to the film because Director Danny Boyle risked his life (and that of his cast and crew) to shoot on location in the incredibly dangerous slums of Mumbai. There is no question that this helps the viewer sympathize with the characters and grasp their desperation.
Unfortunately, for me the weak link was the star—Dev Patel. We toggle between him sitting on the set of the game show and sitting in the police inspector's office, reacting to the questions he's being asked in both circumstances. Despite the vast contrast of these inquiries, his expression is the same: a confused "What's my name?" sort of stare that doesn't really suit either situation.
This lack of varied expressions made it even harder for me to believe Latika (Freida Pinto), one of the most breathtakingly beautiful women on the planet, would remain hopelessly in love with him throughout all of their trials and tribulations.
And speaking of Latika, I would've liked the love story to have more time to grow, even if it needed to be at the end.
All in all, it's an original story that moves very quickly toward a somewhat predictable ending that was diluted by its main actor.
Worth seeing? Sure. Best Picture candidate? I don't think so.