Knight at the Movies Archives
Bond is back (yeah baby!) and so is filmmaker Danny Boyle with one of the most rousing indies of the year
Bond, in the spectacular form of Daniel Craig, is back in Quantum of Solace and if there was little chance of restraining the
hothead secret service agent in his first go round in Casino Royale, this time there’s none at all. The film opens with a 20 minute
action chase that is happening literally just after the previous film ended. Agent 007 is out to find the killer of his paramour Vesper
(even though she turned out to be a rogue agent) who was drowned in Venice at the conclusion of the previous edition. And nothing
– especially Judi Dench as his severe, school marm of a boss – is going to stand in his way.
Unlike the lengthy card playing sequence that hobbled the previous effort, which introduced Craig as the sexiest secret agent on
earth, Quantum of Solace, like its star, hasn’t got so much as an ounce of fat on it – it starts out of the gate and pretty much spins
around the globe until its slam bang finish (the movie has sequences in Haiti, Austria, Italy, and Bolivia). But the action sequences
are driven by the cool, barely contained rage that Craig expertly plays and are very convincing (and one, set against the backdrop of
a gorgeous production of “Tosca,” is mesmerizing). Quantum harkens back to the earlier films by giving Bond a terrifically rotten
nemesis – a really evil villain (played by Mathieu Amalric, the Roman Polanski dead ringer who starred in The Diving Bell & the
Butterfly) who has a young lady dipped in oil (in a nod to Goldfinger) at one point (but he could have used a cat to stroke or a shark
tank or some other kink. There are also a bevy of beautiful Bond girls on hand (one is called Strawberry Fields), all the better for
Craig to bed them (though, disappointingly, we don’t get to see him walk out of the sea in a bikini this time around).
The whole thing revolves around an evil cartel’s attempt to gain control over one of earth’s most precious natural resources but that’s
beside the point – Quantum of Solace is in the vein of classic Bond’s – plenty of thrills, just enough bedroom action, and a smattering
of witty retorts to keep things crackling. Perhaps the only incomprehensible thing about this smartly directed action picture (it was
helmed by Marc Forster) is that head scratcher of a title.
Slumdog Millionaire, the latest film from director Danny Boyle (Sunshine, 28 Days Later, Millions) (working here with co-director
Loveleen Tandan) is being talked about as the indie release of the year; this year’s Juno or Little Miss Sunshine, and I am happy to
chime in with the hosannas being raised in its honor. The film is a clever variation on the classic underdog story – with major
elements of the Cain and Abel story and an eye opening travelogue to boot.
Set in India, the movie follows the exploits of Jamal (played as a teenager by Dev Patal), his brother Salim (played at three
different stages by three different actors) and Jamal’s efforts to reunite with the beautiful Latika (Freida Pinto), their fellow
“slumdog” who Jamal holds an unshakable torch for. The story begins on the eve before the teenaged Jamal is scheduled to answer
the final question in the Indian TV version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Not believing that an uneducated “slum rat” could
possibly have known so many answers and climbed almost to the top of the game show jackpot, the show’s host has him arrested as
Jamal’s leaving the television studio. Tortured and interrogated, nothing shakes Jamal’s adamant claim that he’s not cheating and
as the movie progresses, via flashback we are shown how he has come to intimately know the answers to the improbable questions.
Orphaned as children, the brothers literally have lived in garbage dumps, scrounging for food and items to sell. Jamal is the wide-
eyed innocent while Salim is the cagey, wised-up know-it-all whose penchant for crime leads Jamal down a series of wanton paths.
At one point the pair hop a freight train to escape a torrential rainstorm and Jamal, against the wishes of his brother, invites Latika
to take shelter with them. Later the trio are taken in by a kindly man who at first seems like a saint but quickly reveals himself as
an Indian version of Fagin with a pack of beggars working the streets for him – the guy’s so horrible he even blinds several of the
children to get their take up – they prey on the tourists around the Taj Mahal like vultures on carrion. It is in this section that the
characters of Jamal and Salim are clearly delineated and they are familiar ones – Jamal is the wide eyed, stouthearted innocent to
Salim’s wised up, pint sized con artist with the cynics jaundiced view of the world.
Eventually, in another twist, the brothers are separated from Latika and then for years, each other, but the fate of all three are
inextricably intertwined once again when through an amazing set of circumstances Jamal finds himself a contestant on the show. As
Jamal progresses on the show he quickly becomes the poster boy for the underdog and a beacon of hope for the underclass – the
millions of underprivileged living in the crushing poverty of India’s large cities (the movie reminded me why India ranks so slowly on
my places to visit). Boyle’s film, drawn from a novel adapted by Simon Beaufoy, is impossibly rich, stuffed with unforgettable scenes
and characters and serves as both a very satisfying, old fashioned story and a fascinating cultural and historical lesson. All of which
help make Slumdog Millionaire one of the most entertaining films of the year.
Quantum of Solace-Slumdog Millionaire
Exclusive Edition of 11-12-08 Knight at the Movies Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.