Written by Simon Beaufoy
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Irfan Khan.
What a wonder of a movie. Boyle’s look into the slum world of India is part City of God, part Dickens and part romance. And somehow, it all works. Boyle’s film elevates what would otherwise be a hokey setup (a slumdog goes on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and upon answering every question correctly he’s arrested and tortured – it is during this framing device where we learn how it is that his lifestory unwittingly prepared him to get the answers right on the show) and turns it into an exploration of the heart at the center of India’s slum world through the eyes of a wide-eyed boy (Jamal) who dreams of being with the girl of his dreams. The film succeeds because it doesn’t get caught up on the romance of the story and never shies away from the horror (and wonder) of living in the slums. The R rating is well-deserved not for any one shot (take your pick – there are deaths, tortures and a horrific scene involving a singing boy) but for the uncompromising vision of the film. This might be a film that believes in happy endings but it won’t let them come without a cost.
Few movies this year have had me entranced in the way Slumdog Millionaire did – holding my breath, cringing in fear of what was to come, laughing hysterically and even swaying along at the Bollywood number at the end. It’s not surprising Fox Searchlight is so warmly pushing this film as an endearing audience winning film (I attended one of their free screenings and the film received roaring applause at the end) because Boyle’s film works effortlessly to immerse you in this world where there might indeed be horror, poverty and violence but where there’s also laughter and a place for hope. This is most vivid in the last scenes in the film where the film shows us a country biting their nails while watching the game show as a tragedy unfolds in the wings.
Shoutouts to Anthony Dod Mantle for the amazing cinematography (the initial establishing shots of the slums are beautiful without being romantic about their subject), Chris Dickens for his editing (making one chase sequence at the beginning of the film rival the intensity and urgency in any Bond or Bourne installment) and A. R. Rahman for the musical score (anyone who incorporates M.I.A.’s Paper Planes into a film score and manage to not remind me of the Pinneapple Express trailer deserves praise). And of course the cast who really sell the reality of their characters; Dev Patel in particular who in his scenes sells us Jamal’s anguish, heartbreak and wonder in one look, despite the fact that his performance requires him to be a reactive rather than an active performer (in the game show as well as in the torture scenes). A+