At a time when many directors are leaving Bollywood for less exotic locations, Irish director Danny Boyle, following in the footsteps of Wes “Darjeeling Limited” Anderson, set his latest film in the New York of India, Mumbai, the most populous city in the world. Taking the lead from its setting Slumdog Millionaire is a chaotic movie; part nightmare, part fairy tale.
When we first meet Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), he’s an eighteen-year old orphan at a crossroad. As a contestant on India’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? he is just one question away from winning it all—20 million rupees, but as the show breaks for the night he is arrested for cheating. After a brutal night of questioning he begins to tell his story in an attempt prove his innocence. Told primarily in flashbacks Jamal recounts a troubled life in the slums of Mumbai with a violent brother and a mother killed when he was just a child. The only ray of hope in his life was Latika (Freida Pinto), an orphan girl who enters and exits his life. Each story reveals the life experience that taught him the answers to the game show’s questions; all set against the vibrant backdrop that is India.
Slumdog Millionaire is a wild ride from Boyle’s hyper visual style, to the pulsating musical score, to the elements of the story that binds together Romeo and Juliet, Bollywood gangster pictures, the Usual Suspects and an occasionally tender coming-of-age story. Boyle pulls out all the stops, leaving the quiet, austere feeling of his last film, Sunshine behind for a frenetic pace that assaults the senses—in a good way. Like the slum lifestyle he portrays the film is relentless, a barrage of images, music and sound. His characters are constantly on the run, and the movie is just as restless as they are but luckily for us Boyle keeps the story on track pushing it forward with every frame.
Boyle is a chameleon of a filmmaker, switching styles with every film, but he is a master of telling realistic stories with complicated parallel character threads. From the edgy Trainspotting to the heartwarming Millions to the intense 28 Days Later his films are immersive experiences that use images and music to maximum effect. Slumdog Millionaire is his most complex movie yet encompassing everything from romance to action, comedy to anguish, treachery, greed and yes, even a musical number (stay through the credits!). Exhilarating filmmaking and one of the year’s best.