Director: Danny Boyle
I’m a Danny Boyle fan and have been since I discovered him through Trainspotting (1996) in my early teens. Most people laud Slumdog Millionaire as being one of his best films, behind the seminal Trainspotting of course. For me however I think this is his weakest film, or rather his least memorable. Now I’m not saying that it’s a bad film because it isn’t, it’s just if I had to sit down and choose a Danny Boyle film to watch, Slumdog Millionaire would be way down near the bottom of the list.
“The arc of the story is shaped by Jamal’s ability to answer the toughest questions set by the show’s antagonistic host, and the reason he knows these obscure questions forms the spine of the story and a history of his remarkable life.” (918, Karen Krizanovich, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I do like the concept and the way Boyle provides Jamal’s history through the portal of answering questions on the Indian “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” An unusual life full of random extraordinary events leads Jamal on his way to win a life changing amount of money.
The film is vibrant and full of color eve when Jamal and Salim are living either in the slums or on the streets. This gives the film a beauty of sorts, and there are a number of shots that take your breath away like when Jamal and Salim end up at the Taj Mahal.
As with all Boyle films there is a darkness to Slumdog. Jamal is surrounded by some extremely unsavory characters from very early on in his life. And sadly these include his older brother (and only surviving family member) Salim who should do everything in his power to protect his family. At times Slumdog becomes difficult to watch especially when our young trio, our three musketeers, are taken in by an orphanage and I use that word in the loosest possible term. They become part of a rag-tag group of “orphans working for a Fagin-like [Maman] character who creates blind, singing beggars from healthy sighted children.” (918) I found it particularly hard to watch a young orphan being blinded in order to increase profits because as Jamal says “everyone knows blind singers get paid double.”
The narrative jumps backwards and forwards through time but there are three distinct strands which gradually become two. You have Jamal on the show which is the very recent past and Jamal being questioned (using some dubious methods) by the police – the present – which merge into one as the film draws towards the end. And then there is the past where we see Jamal, Salim and Latika grow up, providing not only the history of the main trio but also all the information Jamal needs to make history and become a millionaire. It was this section that I found the most interesting to watch.
The group of young actors who play the trio throughout their childhood (3 per character) are outstanding. They make the transitions between each age smoothly and retain the essence of the character perfectly. Dev Patel is remarkable as the adult Jamal. He has a really expressive face and you can read all his hope and faith in his eyes. Equally however, thanks to a life living on his wits and conning people out of necessity, he is a master at putting on a facade and keeping people of their toes.
“The film’s strong visuals and direction are truly cinematic. Slumdog Millionaire‘s Western narrative and Indian soul mesh to tell a story worthy of any recitation.” (918) At its heart Slumdog is a romance, a love story that takes on epic proportions between Jamal and Latika. I think it’s Boyle’s most sentimental film which is possibly why I wasn’t really feeling it. To me it seems a bit out of character for him.