random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

REEL REVIEW: Slumdog Millionaire (2008) ****

written by: Simon Beaufoy
produced by: Christian Colson
directed by: Danny Boyle

R (for some violence, disturbing images and language)
2 hrs.

I can't remember the last time a film had me so absolutely absorbed from beginning to end. "Slumdog Millionaire" is that rare film and is so far the best movie I've seen all year. It exudes such a breathless exilleration in its visual and narrative style that made it difficult for me to take my eyes off the screen. It's a classic Dickensian story of adversity told with passion and visual virility surrounded by a bleak setting occupied by some truly sadistic characters. Director Danny Boyle shows his love for the buoyant culture and life of India and it's teeming energy. Through the slums of Munbai he hits the ground running (literally) with a kinetic, addictive quality that can't be denied.

Loosely adapted for the screen from the Vikas Swarup novel "Q and A", as a searing portrait of a child's indominable will to survive and to above all else....love. It's crafted with such harrowing scenes of peril and heart-wrenching intensity, while also delivering sweet humor and tender exchanges. Eighteen year-old orphan Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), from the slums of Mumbai, is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on Kaun Banega Crorepati the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

Dev Patel and Anil Kapoor in Slumdog Millionaire

Since no one has ever gone as far in the game as Jamal, he is accused of cheating, arrested and brutally interrogated by a suspicious police inspector (Irfan Kahn). In order to protect his life, Jamal must carefully explain how he came up with the answers to the challenging game show questions. He leads us through the history of his life as a "slumdog", including scenes of him as a resilient boy determined to obtain the autograph of a famous Bollywood star; the death of his mother during an anti-Muslim raid on the slums, and how he and his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) befriended an orphaned girl, Latika who becomes the object of his desire. To go into the story any further would be a disservice to those who have yet to see it (not to mention a dizzying task) as it is best to view this amazing film with little knowledge going in.

At no time does screenwriter Simon Beaufoy resort to any type of known rags-to-riches convention. In fact, as I was watching the film I couldn't help but think about what a task it must have been to write all these different time periods that revolve around Jamal in the hot seat with ubiquitous host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor). This is a far cry from lazy storytelling. Boyle takes the machinations of a traditional tragic romance and breathes new life into expected clich├ęs, leaning more toward the Jamal's harrowing life than his fragments of joy. It's all crammed into a sprawling story of a life lived under the foot of poverty, violence, and guilt, revolcing around a single miracle evening that could possibly produce an entire reversal of fortune.

Boyle's signature kinetic frenzy is on hand here as he wraps the viewer up in the chaotic motion of Indian street life. We're shown that the value of life is cheap, the tattered communities are built on towers of rubbish, and the citizens do the best they can. Boyle plays with time and location to a dazzling degree, keeping the viewer unsettled as the camera shadows extreme trauma of these three children. They witness horrifinh events that would scar any age and a "Oliver Twist" style exploitation from a kingpin of orphaned street beggars. Through it all, one constant remains in Jamal''s life, his connection and pursuit of Latika (Freida Pinto), whose liberation from the clutches of sexual and physical abuse becomes a personal quest for Jamal.

As a child, Jamal doesn't see Mumbai as a land of despondency, it's simply just a new land to conquer under the instruction of his brother. It's to Boyle's credit that the humor he infects in such a challenging story is cautious to progress the story instead of just play for laughs. Most notably when the boys stumble off a train and arrive at the Taj Mahal, a place they are clueless about, inadvertently becoming guides to gullible tourists while stealing their shoes for profit. While the film does have some disturbing situations, it's saved from a somber tone by Boyle's celebration of survival, backed by composer A. R. Rahman's phenomenal soundtrack of vivacious hip-hop and electronic cuts that propel the story.

Street spirit...the main character in Slumdog Millionaire rises from the poverty of Mumbai.

It must be noted that the standoput performances are of the young children who play the three characaters that we follow. Young Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) gets himself into some hilarious situations, where Young Salim ( Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) is forced to be too serious for his age and then there's shy and brave Young Latika (Rubiana Ali), all actors who have never acted before and you would never know. Their presence on the screen is so natural that one would think they didn't even know they were being filmed. But the true testament to their amazing work is how they respond to the dire circumstances the encounter. The best decision the film's producers made was to pluck these children from the streets of Mumbai, resulting in such distinct performances that makes the adventures and horrors they witness seem all the more real.

The final act of the film focuses inevitably on Jamal and Latika. There are moments of genuine tenderness here without resorting to pure saccharine. That's no easy task but Boyle knows that it's better to "show" than "tell" an audience what is happened to a character. Something that many directors have no patience for. It's turns out to be a perfect fit that the actors playing these two characters are both relative newcomers. Having no knowledge of any previous work, I was able to be introduced to their world without distraction and becomes absolutley involved in their longings and desires. Their relationship is surrounded by outrageous suspense especially at the end, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat as Jamal faces down a final trivia question that could make or break his life. It's no surprise that the answer is intertwined with his life experiences but it also specifically catapults his future.

A scene from Slumdog Millionaire

I've like most of Danny Boyle's in the past but most of all I really respect that he is a stylized director who purposely switches genres with each film. Here teamed with co-director Loveleen Tandan (whore experience as a casting director came in handy), he has really outdone himself. Delivering a somewhat unconventional love story that combines classic storytelling and filmmaking techniques with Boyle's uncanny ability to switch styles as necessary to create an innovative cinematic experience. This is by far one of the best movies of 2008 and will likely remain my personal favorite. The film is a great example of why people love movies.

The Skinny:

  • After failing to find a suitable actor in India, Patel was cast as the lead role, Jamal, after Boyle's daughter first saw him on the English TV show "Skins" and urged her father to take a look.
  • Mercedes-Benz asked that its logos be removed in scenes taking place in the slums. The company, according to Boyle, did not want to be associated with the poverty-stricken area, fearing that that might taint its image.
  • The actor whose autograph young Jamal gets is Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh Bachchan is a very real, and very famous Indian actor, and the original host of the Indian version of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire'.
  • Pinto graduated from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. She modeled for two years before meeting Boyle and being cast.
  • Boyle considered hundreds of young male actors, though he found that Bollywood leads were generally "strong, handsome hero-types", not the personality he was looking for.
  • To hone the script, Beaufoy made three research trips to India and interviewed with street children, finding himself impressed with their attitudes. Swarup used many ideas from student director Asim Bhatti while working on the script.
  • The screenwriter said of his goal for the script, "I wanted to get (across) the sense of this huge amount of fun, laughter, chat and sense of community that is in these slums. What you pick up on is this mass of energy."
  • By the summer of 2006, British production companies Celador Films and Film4 invited Boyle to read the script Slumdog Millionaire. He initially hesitated since he was not interested in making a film about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
  • Boyle soon found out that the screenwriter was Beaufoy, who had written 1997's The Full Monty, one of the director's favorite British films, and decided to revisit the script.
  • Boyle was impressed by how Beaufoy wove the multiple storylines from Swarup's book into one narrative, and the director decided to commit to the project.
  • The film was projected to cost $15 million, so Celador sought a distributor to share costs. Fox Searchlight Pictures made an initial offer that was reportedly in the $2 million range, and then Warner Independent Pictures made a $5 million offer that Fox Searchlight could not top.
  • Filmmakers traveled to Mumbai in September 2007 with a partial crew, and they began hiring local cast and crew for production. When preparing for filming, Boyle decided to translate nearly a third of the film's English dialogue into Hindi.
  • The director fibbed to Warner Independent's president that he wanted 10% of the dialogue in Hindi, and she approved of the change.
  • Filming locations included shooting in Mumbai's megaslum and in shantytown parts of Juhu, so filmmakers controlled the crowds by befriending onlookers. Filming began on 5 November 2007.
  • In a recent podcast on Creative Screenwriting, Beaufoy talked about all the child actors involved in playing the three main characters. He stated that once the producers cast them in the film, they made a deal with the families that the children's schooling would be paid for through their teen years as long as they stayed in school.
  • Composer A. R. Rahman planned the score over two months and completed it in two weeks.
  • He has stated he was aiming for "mixing modern India and the old India" with the music, but that the film and soundtrack "isn’t about India or Indian culture. The story could happen anywhere."
  • Boyle, who "hated sentiment" and told Rahman "Never put a cello in my film", wanted a "pulsey" score. Rahman appreciated that Boyle liked how Indian films mix music, saying the director wanted "edgy, upfront" music that did not sound suppressed.
  • Composing pieces to fit the images, he noted "there’s not many cues in the film. Usually a big film has 130 cues. This had just seventeen or eighteen: the end credits, beginning credits."
  • Describing the music as one of the parts he liked most in the film, Boyle wanted to include M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" from early on in production on the score, which appears along with an original track Rahman composed, "O...Saya," featuring Arulpragasam.
  • M.I.A., who Rahman described as a "powerhouse" and Boyle hailed as "a gift" to the soundtrack gave brief film notes on some scenes to Boyle upon request during editing.
  • The soundtrack for the film will be released via N.E.E.T. — available online on 25 November, and at record stores on 23 December.
  • The soundtrack has received a 2008 Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.
  • The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30th, 2008, where it was positively received by audiences, gaining "strong buzz".
  • The film also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on 7 September 2008, where it was "the first widely acknowledged popular success" of the festival,winning the People's Choice Award.
  • The film has made it on several Top 10 end of the year lists, has received various nominations and has already won various awards for writing, directing, acting and film.


Interview with Patel

Interview with Boyle & Beaufoy


Eve said...

I am definitely going to see this!

David J. Fowlie said...

Yes! You must see this in theaters. Date night with Scott. Then go get the soundtrack!

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