I’ve been frothing at the mouth since last September to see Slumdog
Millionaire where I faced three sold out shows at the Toronto Film
Festival. And the fact that the film won
the People’s Choice Award didn’t make the eventual November release any more
bearable. But here we are, at the end of
November, and I have finally seen “the little film that could”. Was it worth the wait? To put it simply, yes.
Since its debut at Telluride and Toronto in September, Slumdog
Millionaire has been winning audiences over with its tale of a slum kid from
Mumbai who ends up as a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? so he
can find the one true love that got away.
His situation becomes interesting, however, when he gets every answer
right. How could a kid from the slums
know the answers to questions that would stump doctors and lawyers?
The problem with seeing a film that’s received nothing but
universal praise is that it almost never meets your expectations. In fact, it barely comes close. But Slumdog Millionaire is that rare film;
the kind that finds a way to exceed all the praise it’s received and completely
catch you off guard with its style, wit and heart.
Ever since Shallow Grave, I’ve been a fan of director
Danny Boyle. He’s one of the very
directors who refuses to make the same film twice. His filmography is a certifiable list of some
of the best films of the 90’s and 00’s, so it’s astounding to realize that
every new Boyle picture finds a way to surpass the previous one. With Slumdog Millionaire, the director
injects an incredible amount of energy into a story that spans three different
periods of Jamal’s life, alongside his older brother, Salim, and the love of
his life, Latika. In fact, it’s that
very same kinetic energy that makes the horrific depiction of poverty in India
somewhat tolerable, if that’s even possible.
Boyle is a master at capturing a location through the lens, and Slumdog
Millionaire is no different. India has
always looked beautiful (even the slums have a bizarre beauty to them), but through
Boyle’s camera, it is presented in a hyper-realized manner that keeps your eyes
fixed on the screen. In retrospect, it
almost looked like a dream.
Written by Simon Beaufoy (the writer of The Full Monty), Slumdog
Millionaire begins with Jamal’s intense interrogation, then jumps to the Millionaire
set, only to jump back in time to explain how Jamal knows the answer to the
question he’s being given. In a lesser
writer’s hands, the structure of the story would fall apart, but Beaufoy
understands the unique fast paced style that Boyle was gunning for, so the
story pleasantly speeds along at a furious pace. What really surprised me, though, was how
much I actually cared for Jamal, Salim and Latika. Of course, these characters immediately
garner our empathy given the social caste.
But it takes great writing and acting to have the audience sympathize
with them. They each go through their
own realistic (if slightly glamorized) character arc that helps give the ending
a stronger emotional impact. All nine
actors beautifully endue their characters with a unique sense of individuality that
very few films can achieve. I was most
impressed with the fact that all of the child actors were inexperienced;
interesting, given the fact that they pretty much stole the show with their
humor and surprising dramatic range.
A couple of months ago, Slumdog Millionaire was met with
an uproar when it was given an R rating.
In this case, I believe they made the right decision. While the violence isn’t gratuitous, there
are more than enough disturbing moments to make anyone squirm in their
seats. Now that I think about, a lot of
that could be attributed to Boyle’s aforementioned kinetic energy; it almost immediately
puts the viewer on edge, so when something violent or surprising happens, your
heart can’t help but skip a beat. Although,
I must say that it’s important for some younger viewers to realize that poverty
is out there and it isn’t pretty. I respect
Boyle even more for refusing to back down, instead deciding to show how
horrific it truly is.
In a year that (up until this point) hasn’t given us too
many frontrunners for Oscar consideration, it’s refreshing to see a film like Slumdog
Millionaire slowly winning audiences over with its simple approach to good old
fashioned storytelling. Between this and The Wrestler, it looks like Fox Searchlight is headed toward a wonderful