I'll get it out of the way to start: Slumdog Millionaire was one of the best pictures of last year, if not the best, and it deserves the critical acclaim it has received, including the Oscar love. It was up against four pretty "meh" movies, but it was rightfully named the best film of the year. Despite all of the meaningless controversy surrounding the film, it has received the attention it earned by creating a fantastic fairytale of a movie. Now onto the rest of the review...
Slumdog Millionaire is a great achievement of a film and it features a dizzying array of images, sounds, colours, and cultures. It is a technically beautiful film - the cinematography, editing, sound, and art direction are breathtaking throughout the film. But I am convinced that the primary reason the movie succeeds is because of the direction of Danny Boyle. Boyle has mastered many different styles - science fiction, psychological thriller, children's romp, heist flick - and he always manages to infuse his own frenetic style into the realitiess of the genre. He has brought together some conventions of Indian film with the expectations of western film, and his influence is apparent throughout the film. This includes some of the technical choices, such as scenes of running, frenzied camera movement, long zooming in and out shots, and quick cuts. But it is also apparent in the nature of the themes and moral issues of the film: examining the way in which different characters respond to similar moral dilemmas; the presence of apparently amoral characters who determine the destiny of others in the story; and a protagonist whose nature is brought into question throughout the film. I do think it would be interesting to perform a more indepth examination of Boyle's films from a moral perspective sometime - but I digress.
I found the combination of Western culture - in the form of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" - and Eastern life - in the form of slum life in Mumbai - to be very intriguing. Boyle's cuts between the three parts of the narrative enhance the sense of difference between Jamal Malik's upbringing and his stint on the show, but the Millionaire segments themselves set the film apart from the west, where Millionaire is long gone into the realm of daytime TV. I don't think the embracing of a show that has now virtually exited western pop culture is meant as a denigration of India, though; rather, I think the film invites the viewer to share that common experience and to show that different cultural touchstones have significance in different ways across the world. I would not be surprised to see there be some discussion of the American version of Millionaire returning to Prime Time as a result of this film, which would be an interesting twist on cultural assimilation.
There are many other aspects of the film that I could discuss, but suffice to say that Slumdog Millionaire is a landmark film, a technically amazing production, and one of the best and most memorable movies of 2008.