Slumdog Millionaire (2008) dir. Danny Boyle
Starring: Dev Patel, Irfan Kahn, Anil Kapoor, Freida Pinto
With Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” now in public release we can finally start discussing Oscar legitimately. Boyle's latest film is impossible to place into a genre, it’s a sweeping coming of age film, love story, exotic adventure and triumph of the human spririt all rolled up into a film about a young man who plays India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. Danny Boyle injects his story with the same cinematic energy as his other classics “Trainspotting”, “28 Days Later”. It's a stunning directorial achievement, and with only 6 weeks left in the year, I can say with almost certainty there won't be a better film this year.
“Slumdog Millionaire” stands out as old-fashioned Hollywood escapism. Yet, there isn’t a recognizable Hollywood face in the entire film. It’s all set in India in 2006. A young Indian man Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be Millionaire”. He appears to have won but instead of celebrating we first see him strung up and tortured by the police who have accused him of cheating. After many excruciating torture techniques Jamal won’t confess. So they sit him down in front of the videotape of the show and Jamal recounts how he knew each and every question on the show.
As each question is read out by the India equivalent of Regis Philbin, we flashback to the specific incident which recalled each of Jamal’s answers. And so in one half hour game show we get to see a sampling of Jamal’s extraordinary young life. We see Jamal as a child become orphaned, live on the streets begging, stealing, to survive – living a life of poverty like millions and millions of other impoverished kids. Except this one slumdog is about to win the biggest jackpot in the country and make him a millionaire.
Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy use the life story flashback technique of “Citizen Kane” as it’s narrative structure. After the first couple of flashbacks I figured out what the technique was and I expected a predictable course of action. Indeed the film doesn’t waver from its course, but Jamal’s life is so extraordinary it becomes a unique and eye opening view into Indian subculture.
As expected with a ‘Danny Boyle film’ he sets a blistering pace and challenges us to keep up. There are numerous chases through the populated Mumbai streets, bold eye-popping colours, and an exciting pop music soundtrack. Boyle has always had a great ear for music. Whether it’s the Brit pop music in “Trainspotting” or his pulsing ambient rhythms of “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine”, there’s always something special to listen to in his film. A.R. Rahman (“Elizabeth The Golden Age”, “Water”) provides an eclectic score mixed in with fresh energetic Indian pop music. There are few familiar tunes, but it had me yearning to find the soundtrack and listen to it in the car ride home.
I saw the film in press and industry screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was 9:00am and most of the crowd, like me, were still trying to wake up after a long day of movie watching, partying, or in my case writing late night reviews. After 120mins the film ended on such a high the entire audience applauded spontaneously – a rarity for the jaded businesslike industry crowd. And even more rare is that the audience stayed through the end credits.
After Boyle bombards us with so much story, adventure, melodrama and nail-biting game show suspense, he’s still not content with pleasing us. Over the final credits the entire cast treats us to a raucous Bollywood style dance sequence, intercut with flashing picture credits set to a foot-tapping bangra number. “Slumdog Millionaire” is crowd-pleasing optimistic filmmaking at it’s best. It shines a beacon of light on a subsection of the world that has little hope. Enjoy.