Wednesday, December 17, 2008


SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (****) is bursting at its seams with energy, ambition, and vibrant style. After you cut through the hyperactively arresting visual style of the film (which comes across as both vintage Tony Scott and Fernando Meirrelles), one is left with a simple, timeless, old-fashioned love story that really digs its hooks into you. Directed by the genre-hopping British filmmaker Danny Boyle (SUNSHINE, TRAINSPOTTING, MILLIONS), SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is always entertaining even when the story takes dark turns. Like all films, it is a work that should be experienced with as little known about it as possible before entering the theater. Mixing high Hollywood style and conceits with the rambunctious spirit of Bollywood, Boyle, and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (THE FULL MONTY), have crafted an explosive piece of cinema that takes the viewer to a place that they’ve never been before and serves as a potent reminder of how lucky most of us are to be living in our insulated, protected lifestyles. I had read a ton of hype before finally seeing SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, which created the chance that the film might not live up to all of the buzz it had been receiving. I was not disappointed. This is easily one of the year’s finest efforts, and a film that I am anxiously looking forward to seeing for a second time.
Adapted by Beaufoy from the novel “Q&A” by Vikas Swarup, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE tells the wild tale of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, making a strong debut), a boy from the slums of Mumbai, who as a late teenager, finds himself as a contestant on the game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” Jamal, portrayed by three different actors (all of whom are immensely talented, especially Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, who plays Jamal as a young boy), wants nothing more than to be reunited with the girl he’s loved since childhood. Her name is Latika (Frieda Pinto, who, it must be said, is utterly gorgeous). Jamal met Latika after he and his older brother, Salim, had been separated from their mother after a tragic bit of religion-fueled violence. Orphans of the slums, Jamal, Salim, and Latika bounce from one impoverished area to the next, getting mixed up with shady characters all throughout. But the hook of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is what makes it so immensely watchable and exciting. Jamal has made it to the last round of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” and the show’s producers and local authorities are desperate to know how a “slumdog” like Jamal could possibly know all of the answers to the various questions that he’s been asked on the competition. He’s got to be cheating, right? The film pivots on emotionally intense flashbacks that show how Jamal gained all of the knowledge that he’s been dispensing on the game show. How it all ends, I will leave that up to you to discover. But what I will concede is that there are more than a few surprises to be had, and if you have any sort of heart in your body, it will be impossible for you not to be swept up by the dizzying narrative and visual force of this hard-charging film.

Boyle has been one of the most eclectic filmmakers working on the fringes of Hollywood over the last decade. He burst onto the scene with the Ewan McGregor thriller SHALLOW GRAVE, which for a low-budget debut, was pretty damn fine. Then, he tackled TRAINSPOTTING, and garnered instant worldwide acclaim. Then, a few stumbles – the ill-conceived A LIFE LESS ORDINARY and the half-good, half-dumb THE BEACH. Then, he single-handedly redefined the modern zombie movie with 28 DAYS LATER, a horror-thriller that has set the template for all of the recent zombie films to have been cranked out over the last few years. Next up was the charming and completely different film MILLIONS, a moving children’s story that serves as sort of a warm up to SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. And last year, Boyle made an interesting sci-fi movie called SUNSHINE, which started off brilliantly, but was derailed in its final act by a ludicrous plot development. Still, even when the scripts that Boyle is working with fail him from moment-to-moment, he’s a filmmaker with a burning sense of style and a level of edginess which makes all of his films immediately interesting. To say that SLUMDOG MILLIONAIE is his best, most complete, and most overtly satisfying picture would be no small compliment; for the last 12 years he’s been one of the most exciting filmmakers making films.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE works on all levels. The incredible, break-neck cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle (who also shot 28 DAYS LATER and MILLIONS) is pure visual delight. Mixing film speeds and stocks and employing highly versatile HD cameras, the viewer is taken directly into the middle of the slums and shown a world that is both beautiful yet hauntingly poor. During the opening credits, the camera races with Jamal and his friends around the ghettos, and you really get an eye-opening sense of what it must be like to live in this part of the world. There are images in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE that are too amazing to spoil and that are impossible to forget. The razor-sharp editing by Chris Dickens (HOT FUZZ, SHAUN OF THE DEAD) compliments Mantle’s raggedly beautiful images and when coupled with the eclectic musical score put together by A.R. Rahman, the results are nothing short of dazzling. The budget on SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE couldn’t have been huge, but these filmmakers get serious bang for their buck. There is an eye-popping sense of speed, detail, and color in this film, making it one of the most distinctive looking films in recent memory.

But all of the technical accomplishments of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE would mean nothing if the story didn’t work and if you didn’t love its characters. Well, I’m happy to report that this film is the total package. Jamal is someone who the audience will instantly be rooting for. As played by Patel, Jamal is a young man who knows exactly what he wants but has to creatively figure out how to get it. Watching him trying to get back to Latika will give some people a heart-ache. All of the actors bring natural ease to their roles which is interesting in that many of them are making their on-screen debuts. Boyle has an uncanny ability to coax brilliant performances out of child actors; see MILLIONS for further proof. Beaufoy’s script mixes violent incident with the sentimental and it works in a way that so few films of this sort ever achieve. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a film about living life to its fullest, no matter what you’re situation is, and never settling for anything less than what you love and believe in. When the Oscar nominations are announced in about a month, I will not be surprised when this film gets some serious love from the Academy. It’s an old-school film at heart made fresh by new-school technique. It’s a masterpiece for Boyle. Bravo.

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