Genre hopping has always been Danny Boyle’s trademark but with Slumdog Millionaire he’s pushed the envelope further than ever before, taking (essentially) a love story, wrapping it up in television game show, and delivering it via a kaleidoscopic travelogue of India’s colorful city of contrasts, Mumbai. That all of this works, flawlessly, beautifully, is a testament to the director who appears to have learned a few things about shooting in a foreign country (The Beach, shot in Thailand, was a disaster from a production standpoint), especially in terms of trimming back his crew to a mere dozen and relying on the plentiful local talent to handle the logistics (his India-based casting director, Loveleen Tandan, was so essential to the finished product that Boyle unselfishly gave her a co-director credit). Slumdog‘ tells the looks-like-it-could-be-true story (but isn’t) of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a kid from the slums of Mombai, who becomes the highest-grossing winner on the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Flashbacks serve to inform us just how, exactly, he knew the answers to the questions asked of him (the local police arrest him mid-show, accusing him of cheating), from his early childhood experiences to the present day (three actors play Malik, his brother Salim, and Latika, the love of his life, throughout the film). Initially not interested in a story about the popular TV show, Boyle read a dozen or so pages when he saw the name on the script (Simon Beaufoy, screenwriter of The Full Monty) and was hooked. Slumdog Millionaire, however, is in a different class altogether. Kinetic editing, driving music, creative use of subtitles (for the Hindi segments), wonderful performances, and a fresh, dynamic sense of time and place make it a delight from start to (happy Bollywood) finish. It’s an instant classic!
(c) 2008 David N. Butterworth