Based on the 2005 novel Q&A, Slumdog Millionaire became Danny Boyle’s most successful film to date, including helping him win best Film and Best Director Oscars at the 81st Academy Awards. Boyle’s 8th directorial feature takes the lessons he learnt from filming The Beach and improves upon them. Replacing huge film sets with handy-cams he was able to get the natural feel that was sometimes missing from his ill-fated DiCaprio project. With the Oscar buzz surrounding it, Slumdog Millionaire exploded at the box office taking $377m from a modest budget of $15m.
Jamal (Dev Patel) is in custody at a police station in Mumbai on charges of fraud having made it to the latter stages of the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Interrogated to discover who he came to knew the answers to the questions with seemingly no education and a childhood in the slums, he recounts the various events of his life including child slavery, working his way out of the slums and his long-running feelings of love for Latika (Freida Pinto).
In the build-up to its release, Slumdog Millionaire surrounded in a haze of Oscar buzz pitched itself as a feel-good story of a poor Indian peasant who against the odds manages to overcome his background to win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. While technically true, the posters and trailer suggested a warm-hearted ‘based on a true story’ type film. What Slumdog Millionaire actually gives us is a rather hard-going, sometimes brutally graphic modern day fable.
Using Jamal’s rather harrowing interrogation by the police as a framing device, the film flits back and forth from various key moments in his childhood all of which help to explain why he was able to do so well on the game show. There are moments of joy and some of sorrow, notably the beggar scene with the molten metal which help to ground the film with some levels of realism. This is further helped by Boyle’s unique direction as the film has an almost documentary feel at times. This would be for nothing if the cast couldn’t match the films’ ambition. Luckily they’re more than up tot he task.
In Dev Patel, Boyle found on of the UK’s most promising talents. He started as a member of the original cast of Channel 4’s smash hit Skins, where surrounded by other excellent performances he was able to make his stories ripple with truth and poignancy. Patel brings all of these to bear in a blistering turn as the peasant boy Jamal and it is hard for the audience not to be drawn into his colourful and interesting life story. Freida Pinto is equally on par and even with a far smaller role is able to embue Latika with the kind of world-weariness and redemption that an actress twice her age might struggle with.
A success at the box office and at the Oscars, Slumdog Millionaire is probably Boyle’s finest work. It is sometimes hard-going, but the pay-off is worth it in the end.