, 120 min, 2008
Directors: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan (co-director: India)
Writers: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Vikas Swarup (novel Q & A)
Stars: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Saurabh Shukla
Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is a winsome, gripping, ultimately inspirational fable, a modern day fairy tale of the highest order, celebrating the intelligence required to learn from your past.
As the film opens, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a “chaiwaller” (tea-fetcher) for a telemarketing company, is being tortured and interrogated because he, by accident (or was it written?), became a contestant on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the police are convinced he’s been cheating.
The film quickly intercuts the present with flashbacks illustrating how he got question after question right simply by remembering the experiences that are etched into his brain, some tragic, some comic, some major, some minor. We see his childhood in Mumbai, how he was orphaned during a Muslim massacre that killed his mother, and how he and his brother Salim, with their sweet friend Latika in tow, ultimately escaped the slums in order to look for a better life.
In something bearing a striking resemblence to Oliver Twist (the third time I’ve seen a film based on or inspired by that book in the recent years, after August Rush and Polanski’s 2005 adaptation!), the trio is taken in by a Fagin-esque slug, exploited as beggars who literally sing for their supper, and they must soon escape this fate by any means necessary.
Meanwhile, in the recent present, he must contend with a disbelieving game show host, and soon has the audience rooting for him all the way. As the chronology of the flashbacks plays catch-up, Jamal and Salim (as an adult played by Madhur Mittal) grow further and further apart as Salim is drawn into the world of gangsters, from which there may be no return.
The heart of the film is in the relationship between Jamal and Latika (played as an adult by the gorgeous Freida Pinto), and his belief in their destiny to be together.
Danny Boyle is not precisely known for inspirational movies, having directed such works as the Scottish noir Shallow Grave(1994), the druggie dramedy Trainspotting (1996), the zombie horror film 28 Days Later… (2003) and, most recently, the slasher flick in space Sunshine (2007). However, after making the wonderful, quirky family film Millions (2005), Boyle has made his most crowd-pleasing film yet.
Working from a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), the film is based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup. Boyle is above all a ferocious visual stylist, and using a grainy, often handheld and hyperkinetic digital camera, coupled with jagged editing and a pounding soundtrack, he has made a film that grips you from the first shot and never lets go, recalling such films as Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) and Fernando Mereilles’ City of God(2002).
In the end, this is a powerful, surprisingly absorbing, uplifting story that makes you believe in the power to overcome your past, and to upset the low expectations of others. This is one of the year’s best films.