Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, UK/USA, 2008)
You've got to hand it to Danny Boyle - he really knows how to reinvent himself. Nearly every film he makes is a different genre. From thriller (Shallow Grave) to contemporary drug drama/comedy (Trainspotting) to drama (The Beach) to zombies (28 Days Later) to sci-fi (Sunshine), and now romance/drama/thriller with Slumdog Millionaire. This latest outing, set in India, shares some themes with his earlier Millions (2004), a story of some working-class kids who hit the big-time when they find a suitcase of cash, though this latest film is much more ambitious.
In Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal, a poverty-stricken youth, an orphan from the slums of Mumbai, falls under suspicion of cheating the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire when he makes it all the way to the final question, with the top prize of 20 million rupees at stake. How does he know the answers? The film's exploration of this question leads the viewer down various rabbit holes, revealling Jamal's past while giving the audience a view into aspects of contemporary Mumbai culture.
The film has a frenetic pace, with aesthetics similar to City of God. The music is sensational, completely in-your-face. Boyle has gone for a highly stylised and heightened sense of reality, using highly saturated colouration (with matching sub-title backgrounds as a subtle stylistic device). I'm not usually a fan of fast editing, but like the City of God (also set in slums), it works to very good effect here.
The film is unashamedly sentimental and uplifting, but that's not a criticism. In fact, it works quite well. We see life in the slums from a child's perspective, there is a central love story, there is the drama of a life of crime and there is the excitement and suspense that is known to anyone who has watched Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Boyle has packed so many angles into the film that skillfully play out in parallel that the story remains compelling from start to finish.
The game show aspect is really quite fascinating. The set, lighting, music and game structure is virtually indistinguishable from the Australian version. The biggest difference is the compere. Instead of Eddie Maguire and "lock it in Eddie" we have Amitabh Bachchan (played by Feroz Abbas Khan). The actual show is itself dramatic, but portrayed cinematically, it goes to a whole new level of suspense.
The film is highly entertaining and is sure to be popular with arthouse audiences, possibly mainstream audiences also. In fact, this may be Boyle's most successful film yet, though it's not particularly my type of film. It's not in the same league as Trainspotting, but then, I'm a sucker for bleak cinema. Comparisons have been made to other so called “sleeper indie hits” like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine. Slumdog Millionaire is far superior to both those films.
Slumdog Millionaire opens on 18 December, with preview screenings on 12-14 December.