Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Madhur Mittal
Director: Danny Boyle (Loveleen Tandan, co-director)
Writer: Simon Beaufoy, from the novel by Vikas Swarup
Lauded prior to release on our side of the pond, Slumdog Millionaire is a pretty outstanding piece of British filmmaking, one of the fine times when Danny Boyle’s stylistic ability converges with a sense of powerful emotion. Not only that, it’s one of the first mainstream attempts by a movie in the UK to engage with the cultural melting pot which exists, primarily made from Asian and English personage.
We follow Jamal, a young kid from the slums of Mumbai, then Bombay, as he stands on the verge of winning the top prize on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. As he gets to the last question, Jamal is carted off by authorities who accuse him of cheating. The film then structures out to explore a series of events in Jamal’s life which have given provided him with all the answers to be able to win the quiz.
Promoted as a feel-good movie, it’s one of the strangest forms of such a sub-genre. The vast majority of Slumdog Millionaire sees the horrific life of a slum child in India across the poverty of his early life and his witnessing of the building up of the new India. Some scenes of the film are truly horrific and the tenor of that part of his life seems hopeless, only pulled back from the edge of depressing by Danny Boyle’s kinetic direction and a sense of hope that the movie plumbs constantly to remind us of the adage that true love will eventually prevail. If this subtracts from the film’s ability to surprise, making it relatively predictable in terms of getting from A to C, the B section is where we, and Jamal, earn the happy ending.
The events that occur in Jamal’s life are horrendous, frightening and deeply troubling; from his life working in a harem of beggars for a master willing to do anything to make them more likely to solicit sympathetic donations to his constant battles and ventures into the darkest parts of town to continually find his love, Latika. But they begin by the close for form a semi-biblical trial that Jamal must go through, reconciling his relationship with his brother and, with the gameshow, giving himself a sense of closure on that part of his life and a new beginning to look forward to. The relationship with his brother, the wayward Salim, is maybe the strongest part of the film. The two are not diametrically opposed and manage to capture the anger and forgiveness balance that is necessary within a brotherly relationship.
Boyle’s direction is constantly outstanding, visually superlative and infusing what could be a slog of a film with a vitality and energy that drags it through any of the more disturbing elements of the story. The performance match this well with both Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, as Jamal and Latika respectively, are wide-eyed and naïve filled with the possibilities of love and drawing the audience into their relationship enough to mean that few will begrudge Boyle his climactic moments. Also outstanding are Anil Kapoor as the host of Millionaire, just smarmy enough to be entertaining during the show, and the always-excellent Irrfan Khan as the police inspector questioning Jamal.
I would struggle to entirely characterise this as feel-good given the journey needed prior to any real feeling good. But this is a superb film, hugely enjoyable and brilliantly made and will surely be making year-end lists across the UK.
MOD Rating: ♦♦♦♦