Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire could conceivably be described as another one of his fractured fairy tales (like Millions, A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach, or even 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Trainspotting). Meaning, it’s another stylized journey about a misunderstood young man thrown into the mix of heightened/magical reality, terrible danger, and a damsel in distress. The difference here, is that Slumdog Millionaire takes the backdrop of poor and polluted India, and marries it with the escapist pleasure of a television game show (India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?).
The entire story is framed by young Jamal’s appearance on the show as a contestant, and the way in which each trivia question relates to an episode during his childhood. It’s a clever idea: can your life’s biggest memories be summed up in 10 trivia questions? Plus, the case is made that when coming of age in a third world country, even the most “trivial” information can save your neck. Jamal’s disturbing time as a kid makes for a wild tonal shift, but that is something Boyle has mastered better than many directors working today. One minute, Jamal or his friends are facing horrific torture, the next minute there is what amounts to the cinema’s most graphic poop joke in recent memory.
Newcomer Dev Patel (as Jamal) does a great job, anchoring this chaotic narrative. For such an untested actor, he’s a natural. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, primarily known for lighter fare such as The Full Monty and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, has made a fine script out of Vikas Swarup’s novel Q&A. And, perhaps the unsung hero of the whole production is Loveleen Tanden, an Indian casting veteran who is credited as co-director with Boyle. Her work on the ground, coaching the non-professional Indian actors as well as shooting second-unit on the set, makes for the backbone of this accomplished film. Terrific editing and a thumping soundtrack add to the film’s delirious and jubilant spirit.
As harsh as some of the content may be (and it gets pretty disturbing at times), this is no downer of a film. It’s youthful, inspiring, and funny. True to Danny Boyle’s style and reputation, Slumdog Millionaire is probably one of the darkest feel-good movies you’ll ever see.