Critics can be tough on movies, but the people who make movies can be even harder on them. Unless they’re Quentin Tarantino, they tend to be careful about keeping those opinions to themselves, or at least not revealing them in front of a recording device, but every once in a while, they let their true feelings slip out. So it was that Dev Patel, while signing autographs outside the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of his movie, “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” let it slip that he wasn’t especially fond of one particular piece of his filmography. “I’m sorry about this film,” he told a fan. “It was a little bit shit, wasn’t it?”
Toronto probably wouldn’t have posted the video to their own YouTube channel if they thought the movie Patel was slagging was identifiable, but with a little sleuthing Criticwire thinks we’ve figured it out.
Let’s start with the easy part. Patel has only been in seven feature films: “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Last Airbender,” “About Cherry,” “The Road Within,” “Chappie,” and the two “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”s. Is he apologizing for the Best Picture-winning “Slumdog”?Not bloody likely. The “Marigold Hotel”s? Could be, but they’re popular hits, not the kind of movies an actor is likely to slag off in public — plus he’s barely in them, and thus not really in a position to apologize for them even if he were inclined to do so. “About Cherry” or “The Road Within”? Perhaps — the former has a 10 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and lowly 4.8 on IMDb. But they’re not exactly the kind of obscurities for which an autograph hound — either amateur or professional — is likely to have something on hand for Patel to sign.
That leaves two possibilities. “Chappie” is widely disliked, but it’s almost too recent for Patel to have second thoughts about. That leaves “The Last Airbender,” which seems far and away the most likely choice. For one thing, it’s almost universally loathed: Rotten Tomatoes has it at a bottom-scraping 6 percent, and its IMDb ranking is even lower than “About Cherry’s.” Although Patel did admit last year that doing “Airbender” “wasn’t the best move,” it’s still as close as he’s come to a starring role in a major Hollywood blockbuster (or would-be blockbuster), so it’s a little unusual for him to badmouth it in public. But check this out. The video’s a little bumpy, but there’s a split second where you get a close look at the object the fan is handing Patel to sign — the one the prompts Patel to refer to “this film.” The full frame is at the head of this post, but I’ve zoomed in on the relevant portion here.
It’s far from crystal clear: All you can really make out is some vague shape and color. But compare it to this:
It’s not a precise match, but that folded piece of paper looks like a DVD cover, and you can make out the blue and red colors and the shape of Noah Ringer’s shaved head (as Aang). Plus, apart from “Slumdog Millionaire,” which this clearly is not, “The Last Airbender” is the only of Patel’s movies to prominently feature him in the key art, which makes it much more likely for an autograph-seeker to be handing him something from the film in the first place. Are we 100 percent certain? We are not. But we do know that if Dev Patel called “The Last Airbender” “a little bit shit,” very few people would argue with him.
As a reminder of how times change, here’s Patel defending the film, including its controversial whitewashing of the animated series’ characters, in 2010: