'Slumdog's' praise is well-earned

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2009

There is something in my wiring, perhaps faulty, that has long caused me to be contrarian from time to time. When there is an overwhelming majority echoing the same sentiment about something, I cannot help but lean the other way. It is an automated response and not one I'm always even on board with.

For example, living in SoCal, I have come to despise the L.A. Lakers and their annoying fan base. Yet a few years ago, while watching the NBA Finals with friends in Juneau, with everyone rooting against L.A., I found myself cheering them on.

Sorry, hold on a sec. ... Okay. Thought I might hurl there for a moment.

"Slumdog Millionaire" has seen its bandwagon fill up so fast of late even local Lakers fans - with their obnoxious purple and gold flags flying from their car windows - have probably taken notice. The Golden Globes loved it, the Screen Actors Guild Awards loved it and everybody you have talked to, heard from, seen on TV or read on the Internet has sung its praises as well. There is little doubt that the Oscars will also soon be heaping praise onto "Slumdog Millionaire."

Admittedly, then, I walked into the theater recently prepared to nitpick and find things I did not like so I could go against the grain at least a little. Surely, if I could openly root for Kobe Bryant, I could find an excuse to rip "Slumdog" in the Juneau Empire.

Damn that Danny Boyle and his Screen Actors Guild Award-winning cast! When it comes to "Slumdog Millionaire," I'm afraid all I have to offer is more of what you have already heard: It is fan-freaking-tastic. For me, perhaps the biggest factor in winning me over almost immediately was that it was not what I expected. The trailers lead me to believe "Slumdog" was a sappy, feel-good, tear-jerker of a romance; I was expecting to roll my eyes at the cheesiness.

Instead, the first thing I noticed was the "R" staring at me from my ticket. Unexpected. Then, "Slumdog" starts in immediately with a loud, booming and vibrant soundtrack - something it maintains throughout. Unexpected. Finally, the opening moments of the movie show us our hero Jamal (Dev Patel) being tortured by police. Most definitely unexpected. Within about 5 minutes of sitting down in the auditorium, I had forgotten all about my contrarian ways.

"Slumdog," as if you did not already know, is the story of a poor Indian boy (Jamal) who manages to get onto India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" only to be arrested on suspicion of cheating. There's no way, as far as the show's seedy host (Anil Kapoor) is concerned, that some slumdog can actually know the answers he keeps producing. And so we have the structure of Boyle's film, written by Simon Beaufoy: Jamal, on the night before he's supposed to go on the show and try for the grand prize, must explain to a police inspector (Irrfan Khan) how he knew each answer from the preceding day. As Jamal explains, Boyle takes us back in time for extended flashbacks. It is in these flashbacks that the captivating heart of "Slumdog Millionaire" resides.

The incredibly harsh lives of Jamal and his brother Salim, the beginning of Jamal's love for Latika, and the amazing universe these "slumdogs" of India exist in is provide the most interesting two hours you will spend in a movie theater for quite some time.

It would have pained me a few days ago to say this: "Slumdog Millionaire" deserves every bit of praise it has gotten so far and will get.

• Check out Carson's movie blog at www.juneaublogger.com/movies.

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