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Nov 29, 2008

Fletch's Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire

There's a certain je ne sais quoi I find myself noticing every time I watch a new Danny Boyle-directed film. Many directors have trademark qualities that even a novice film geek could pick up on, from Quentin Tarantino's rapid-fire pop culture-inflected dialogue to Martin Scorcese's Rolling Stones'-tinged gangster flicks, but Boyle has never seemed to have a weakness for any particular style or trademark. Perhaps they've always been there and it's just taken me seven films to notice, but there are definitely some shared traits - among them the use of uptempo electronica, messages of hope and the featuring of a charismatic male lead. Taken on their own, they are vague, indistinguishable traits - after all, lots of films might have those things in common. But after Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach, 28 Days Later..., and now with Slumdog Millionaire, it's clear that the Boyle Brand has been established.

The design of the poster and the second half of the title should make it spoiler-free to mention that the game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? plays a large part in the film's plot. What's not so obvious, though, is just how simple, yet brilliant, its involvement is. We're given the life story of Jamal Malik - the titular slumdog (think dirt poor folk) - in flashback fashion, but unlike your typical "start in the present and just jump back to the past and stay there" style, a curveball is thrown. We know from the start that Jamal is featured on the game show; what we get is his life as told by the reasons why he knows the answers that he does.

It doesn't even matter that his story - past or present - isn't wildly original or that the characters are stock (think Blood Diamond + Moulin Rouge minus the singing, with a dash of The Usual Suspects thrown in for good measure). The acting by the almost-entirely Indian born cast (star Dev Patel is U.K.-born) is fantastic, particularly by the two sets of children that play Jamal and his older brother Salim at various ages, and Boyle tells the story with such verve that you won't care if you know where the tale is headed. As a bonus, we get a terrific M.I.A.-heavy soundtrack by A.R. Rahman and an appearance by my favorite Indian-born actor (and potential FF-UN), Irfan Khan.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"It's in the hole!"

Two additional unrelated thoughts:

* It probably has more to do with the content than the love for the film, but I don't think I've ever seen so much of an audience stay to watch an end credits sequence where there was no additional footage (of the plot variety, at least) involved. The musical number that plays is energetic, cheesy, great to look at from a design standpoint, and just a lot of fun. Be sure not to rush out too soon.

* I never noticed it until now, but Boyle hasn't written a single one of his films. This isn't all that shocking, but I guess I just thought of him as more of a writer-director than as a director-for-hire. I shouldn't have necessarily thought this, since I'm well aware that both Trainspotting and The Beach were adapted from novels (for starters), it's just something I noticed while researching. Whatever.

9 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire"

Dead Pan said...

A very telling review. I am excited to see this film whenever it is released around my area.

Nick said...

Don't forget 'Sunshine' in Boyle's list of films :P . And I believe this one was adapted from a novel, too (or was that what you were saying by showing two other book-to-film movies he's done?).

The one trait I've noticed in Boyle's films, or at least the more recent ones, has been his attempt to make the third act go completely in an opposite direction from the rest of the film (see: 28 Days Later... and Sunshine). Does this one do that, as well?

But yeah, I've been wanting to see this movie since before it was released and became super popular among film fanatics. Unfortunately, it hasn't come around these parts yet. However, if it gets Oscar nominated, it'll probably come here around January.

The Mad Hatter said...

Great review, and couldn't agree with you more about that fantastic closing number.

This one will be one of the year's best for sure.

elgringo said...

Danny Boyle refuses to let me down. Sunshine might be my favorite sci-fi film of all time. I know how crazy that sounds but I'm going with it. Boyle is the man. I can't wait to see Slumdog Millionaire.

Farzan said...

Heard this movie was really good, but I cant find a theater near me that has it. Will probably wait for the DVD version before I can check it out

Sheamus the... said...

I am a pretty huge Danny Boyle fan. Looking forward to having an opinion about the movie soon.

Fletch said...

Nick - I'd say no, Slumdog doesn't do that third act thing here at all. It's all pretty straightforward and doesn't take any wild turns. But I know what you mean exactly.

To all you folks who unfortunately can't catch it near you, hold tight. It will be nominated for SOME Oscars, so I'm sure it'll hit a theater near you eventually.

Daniel Getahun said...

Well I haven't seen anyone look at SM through the Boyle lens like this, but I can't disagree with anything you say. It really IS weird that he hasn't written anything, isn't it.

And the end credits - brilliant. Barely, just BARELY edged out Tropic Thunder for the best of the year.

Matthew Lucas said...

Amen on this one. Loved it!