Saturday, December 13, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (***)

Directed by Danny Boyle


Danny Boyle has made a career out of making films that are based purely on energy. Trainspotting perfectly captured the heroin-induced, techno-blasting lifestyles of a group of Scottish junkies. 28 Days Later was a film which used it's gritty filming technique to further emphasize the terror behind a mysterious, deadly virus. This type of filmmaking has become his staple, and he continues that trend with his latest film, Slumdog Millionaire, but this time, it's not too influence the helplessness of drug dependency, or create fear in a world of horror, but to speak toward the concepts of true love and destiny.

Slumdog is the tale of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), and his journey toward 20 million rupees on the Middle-Eastern version of "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire". He is one question away from the ultimate prize, but how did he get so far? Jamal is an assistant at a telemarketing company, who has never had any formal education. He is from Mumbai, and watched his mother get murdered as a child, and has spent most of his life living as a lost orphan. How can someone with such little resources in life make it this far on the show?

As he is interrogated by a detective (Irfan Khan) hoping to find out how he has cheated, Jamal explains how destiny and luck brought him to his current position. You see, the film takes a Pulp Fiction-esque approach to the story-telling. We go back, we go forward, each step giving us further information about Jamal that we never knew before. With each moment we see in his life, we see Jamal receive the clues that would eventually help him on the game show.

But there is more to Jamal's appearance on 'Millionaire' than becoming wealthy. Truthfully, the guiding force behind Jamal's entire journey is his true love from childhood, Latika (Frieda Pinto). While moving through life without a home, the only person on his mind is Latika. So many things have stopped them from being together, and Jamal hopes that his appearance on the show will catch her attention. He hopes that the money will make him more than just a slumdog, but a respectable companion.

Perhaps the film's only fault is that it is energetic to a fault. All of the characters and actors are well-written, interesting, and sympathetic (even the bad ones), but Boyle's flashy direction (which has been getting much accord as of late) seems more interested in style than actually telling the story in a way that is actually functional. Many of Boyle's films are not unlike a techno song (Trainspotting proves this theory literally), all frills, but truly missing a central heart that can really draw the audience in.

I can't deny, though, that the film's off-the-tracks filmmaking can be intoxicating. Certain moments and sequences are shown so exquisitely, while still maintaining its mad-hat energy. Boyle certainly does an impressive job, with help from an Indian co-director Loveleen Tanden. You wonder how much creative power Tanden had (couldn't she been called 2nd Unit Director?), but I feel it necessary to give her credit as well. This film probably has the most distinct filmmaking style of the year, which is easy to be confused with the best.

Jamal and Latika are each played by three different actors at different ages, and all are effective in their roles. Dev Patel, especially, playing the oldest version of Jamal is like lightning trapped in a bottle. Jamal is a rough character to portray, since Boyle doesn't seem to care about investing interest in him, particularly in the beginning, but Patel grabs hold of the character with such a stranglehold that you are able to care about him. Irfan Khan, one of those brilliantly talented actors that no one has ever heard of, is wonderful in limited time as the intimidating, yet compassionate police inspector (watch Khan in the unbelievably underrated A Mighty Heart to catch one of the great unsung performances from last year).

The film can be uneven, but is boosted by a tremendously effective ending. It is incredibly aware of its own style--even down to a Bollywood-style dance number over the ending credits. The film won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, which is usually an honor that forecasts many awards in the future. It has won Best Picture at the National Board of Review, and seems headed toward a Best Picture Oscar nomination. I can definitely see why people have taken to this film with such a fervor, as it is quite a pleasant movie-going experience.

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