SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (A-3, R):
In the late 1970s, Jamal (Dev
Patel) and his older brother,
Salim (Madhur Mittal), become orphans
in India when their mother is killed
by anti-Muslim Hindus. The boys allow
an orphan girl named Latika (Freida
Pinto) to stay with them.
The children survive by digging in
one of Mumbai’s huge landfills until a
man takes them to an orphanage,
where they are exploited to
beg for money and worse. When
the boys escape, Jamal is heartbroken
that Latika is left behind. The
brothers spend years scamming
tourists at the Taj Mahal.
Back in Mumbai, Jamal searches
for Latika, finds her and then loses
her to a powerful crime lord for
whom Salim works. Years later,
Jamal becomes a contestant on
the Indian version of TV’s Who
Wants to Be a Millionaire?
The brilliant British director/writer Danny Boyle (Trainspotting)
has re-created Oliver Twist, one of
Charles Dickens’s signature tales, in
the landscape of the economic and
social extremes of contemporary India.
Boyle moves back and forth between
Jamal’s grim life-learning experiences
and the questions that the quiz show’s
demeaning host, Prem (Anil Kapoor),
asks. These sequences reveal how Jamal
knows the answers. His character as a
man is constantly tested.
A tale of hope and goodness that
brings Hollywood and Bollywood
together, Slumdog Millionaire is a formulaic
romance that comes off as completely
original. Dev Patel’s performance
as the “slumdog” Jamal is quietly heroic
and full of strength.
The film backlights the consequences
of unguided globalization, religious
intolerance, poverty, sexual exploitation
and violence on real people. Educators
and students will revel in Jamal’s
many ways of learning.
This film shows the triumph of the
human spirit. One of the best films of
2008, it is sure to be an award contender.
Mature themes, violence, torture
and problem language.
DOUBT (A-3, PG-13): The setting of John
Patrick Shanley’s new film is a winter
day in 1964 at St. Nicholas, a working-class
Bronx parish where the Sisters of
Charity teach. The Second Vatican
Council is still in session.
At the parish, Father Brendan Flynn
(Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote)
preaches about doubt in his Sunday
homily. Sister James (Amy Adams,
Enchanted) is a young, naive new
teacher. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep,
Mamma Mia!) is the stern principal.
Donald Muller (Joseph Foster), the
only African-American student at the
school, becomes an altar boy. Father
Flynn takes an interest in him.
Sister James becomes suspicious
when Donald acts strangely after returning
from a meeting with Father
Flynn in the rectory. She tells Sister
Aloysius, who becomes convinced that
the priest has made advances toward
the boy. Sister Aloysius puts the
priest on notice and sets out to
I attended a screening in November,
followed by a Q&A with
the director and key cast members.
Director John Patrick Shanley,
who adapted his Pulitzer
Prize-winning play for the screen,
explained that he wrote Doubt because “there was an atmosphere
of certainty in the country a few
years ago and I didn’t share that
certainty....I remember the certainty
of my parochial-school
education. But even then, I could
hear a change coming in the
distance, for better or for worse. I
remember doubt was always considered
a weakness, but I saw it as
The film is certainly about the clergy
sex-abuse scandal. Father Flynn’s
actions and words read like a laundry
list of the warning signs: giving a child
gifts, isolating a child. There is a razor-thin
edge, however, between doubt and
certainty when there is only suspicion
and no evidence, not even the testimony
of the child. Is Flynn innocent or
guilty? Only you can judge.
The film is more complex than this,
however, because doubt and certainty
extend to faith in God and the Church,
as well as between peers and in families.
Doubt also raises issues about race,
domestic violence, intolerance, religious
authority and what people are
willing to do—or not do—to survive.
In addition to the suspected abuse, Sister Aloysius’ hubris and troubling
methods of finding the truth increase
the moral intensity of the drama.
Watching Doubt was like experiencing
a master class on acting by two of
today’s consummate performers. Streep
gives a steely performance and Hoffman
At first, Amy Adams seems a weak
choice to play the person caught in
the middle and who actually suffers
because of her uncertainty, but she ultimately
convinces. All the actors defy
stereotype, certainly due to the input of
Sister Margaret McEntee, S.C., who
served as a consultant for the film. Formerly
known as Sister James, she was
Shanley’s first-grade teacher.
Doubt is a psychological-spiritual
drama that challenges certainty by
questioning it. The film’s strength—and weakness—is in the discomfort of
its ambivalence. Doubt is not a feel-good
emotion, nor is the film named
for it. The film is intelligent, stark, literary
and humbling but somehow its
wintry universe left me cold: Perhaps it
was meant to. Mature themes.
TWILIGHT (A-2, PG-13): When 17-year-old
Bella’s mother remarries, Bella
(Kristen Stewart, Into the Wild) decides
to live with her father, Charlie, the
police chief of Forks, Washington. At
her new school, Bella is attracted to an
otherworldly, handsome young man
named Edward (Robert Pattinson, Harry
Potter and the Goblet of Fire), who seems
repelled by the girl.
When Edward leaps across a crowded
parking lot to save Bella from being
hit by a car, she is stunned. She traces
an Indian legend that leads her to a
discovery: Edward and his foster parents
and preppy foster siblings are vampires
who have deliberately chosen to exist
on animal (rather than human) blood.
These vampires range in age from a
hundred to several hundred years old;
they cannot tolerate daylight and have
By the time Bella confronts Edward,
they are deeply in love. There are vampire
rules, however, and Edward must
exercise restraint to protect Bella from
himself and a bloodthirsty vampire
who wants to consume Bella, literally.
Director Catherine Hardwicke (The
Nativity Story) continues her exploration
of the adolescent female psyche and
experience in this beautifully crafted
and visually rich film. Twilight is an
intense, contemporary gothic tale about
unrequited teenage love that acknowledges
adolescent awkwardness, difficulty
fitting in, infatuation, temptation,
sensuality and commitment.
The narrative becomes about unconditional
love that transcends personal
satisfaction for the good of the other.
Bella is willing to lay down her life for
those she loves. Like science fiction,
this satisfying vampire story allows the
moral imagination to consider the
meaning of free will, the choices we
make and their consequences. Brief violence,
mature themes, peril.
ELEVENTH HOUR (CBS, Thursdays)
is producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s
newest offering, based
on a TV series in the United Kingdom.
This series confronts scientific criminals
and their nefarious deeds, as well as
moral issues, bioethics and the manipulation
of science for weapons.
Rufus Sewell (John Adams) plays Jacob
Hood, a biophysicist. Marley Shelton
(W., Sin City) portrays Rachel Young, the
F.B.I. agent assigned to protect Hood.
Nominated for a People’s Choice Award,
the show got off to a slow start but
seems to have found its footing.
TRUE BLOOD (HBO, Sundays): This
graphic and explicit series is based on
the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire
Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. Even
though the whole world knows that
artificial blood now satiates vampires,
citizens of a small fictional Louisiana
town are still afraid of them. A telepathic
cocktail waitress, played by Anna
Paquin (The Piano), learns what it
means to be an outsider when she falls
in love with a vampire. This series will
not be everyone’s beverage. Problem
language, sex and violence.