One of Boyle’s finest works in terms of craftsmanship and storytelling, and also a sensational (in both good and bad ways) and exceptionally entertaining film.
Dir. Danny Boyle
2008 | UK/India | Drama/Romance | 120 mins | 2.35:1 | English & Hindi
NC16 (passed clean) for some violence, disturbing images and language
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Saurabh Shukla, Anil Kapoor
Plot: A Mumbai teen who grew up in the slums, becomes a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” He is arrested under suspicion of cheating, and while being interrogated, events from his life history are shown which explain why he knows the answers.
Awards: Won 8 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound Mixing. Nom. for 2 Oscars – Best Original Song, Best Sound Editing.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres – first published on 10 Feb 2009)
Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is an exemplar of sights and sounds. Nominated for 10 Oscars including Best Picture and Director, Boyle’s film is an unexpected frontrunner in the Oscar race whose stiffest competitor is David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), which is nominated for 13 Oscars.
British director Boyle made his filmmaking debut with Shallow Grave (1994). But it is the critically-lauded drug drama Trainspotting (1996) that made him a sensation. While his films can range from the dreadful such as The Beach (2000) to the inspiring such as Millions (2004), there is a commonality that runs through many of his movies – they are energetic and vibrant. There is probably no other film in Boyle’s body of work that exemplifies the essence of his craft than Slumdog Millionaire, a motion picture that encapsulates the wondrous power and beauty of cinema.
Slumdog Millionaire is shot on location in the slums of Mumbai, India. After a harrowing introduction that establishes the understanding that this is going to be a unique ‘flashback’ film, viewers are treated to a phenomenal opening sequence that is captivatingly-photographed and frenetically-edited to a pulsating, hypnotic Oscar-nominated soundtrack by A. R Rahman, whom remarkably is also nominated for a further two Oscars for Best Original Song: ‘O Saya’ and ‘Jai Ho’.
This sequence is an eye-opener; the gritty and frantic filmmaking allows Boyle to bring out the vibrancy and color of Mumbai slums with startling immediacy (including a nice touch to the presentation of the subtitles). Slumdog Millionaire has romance at its core. This is more obvious towards the second-third of the film when Jamal (Dev Patel) and Latika (Freida Pinto) become teenagers and begin to feel the flutters of love. Jamal hopes to prove his love to Latika by joining India’s version of the popular game-show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’.
He makes his way to the top albeit accusations of cheating. Well, how can a slumdog know everything? He is arrested and interrogated, but explains that he knew the answers already. The film then pours everything it has to the viewers in numerous perfectly-staged flashbacks that reveal in detail how Jamal’s turbulent life in the slums is linked with the questions answered during the game-show.
Boyle does a brilliant job guiding untrained slum kids to act in front of a moving lens. Furthermore, he does not shy away from capturing true if sensationalized images of unsightly Mumbai and to use it as a beautiful backdrop for his film. The acting is not of the highest order, but it is easy to forgive because most of the cast are either non-professionals or greenhorns in their field. As an ensemble, the cast deliver. But individually, the characters only merely connect to the audience and feel slightly distant.
Thus, Slumdog Millionaire lacks in raw emotional power of some of this year’s best films including The Wrestler (2008) and Doubt (2008). Boyle wraps the film up neatly and throws in a high-impact Bollywood dance sequence-cum-end credits that is not to be missed. It has been quite a while since I left the theater with such high spirits.