A noisy, sub-Dickens update on the romantic tramp’s tale, Slumdog Millionaire zips around a boy’s hard-luck life with a strange verve. Ragtag children run through a labyrinthine Indian shantytown with a police officer in hot pursuit. Two boys ride atop a moving train, hanging upside down over the side to steal food from a wealthy family. The same boys arrive at the Taj Mahal and give bogus tours to German tourists. Later they guide an American couple around a scenic village by foot while locals strip their fancy car for parts. The kids are cute, shots are stylishly skewed, cuts are whip-quick, and rousing remixes of M.I.A.’s ubiquitous “Paper Planes” pop-pop and ching-ching throughout. Poverty can be so much fun.
The over-reliance on M.I.A. nods to where Slumdog Millionaire is coming from. British director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) and British screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) approach their indigenous Indian locales and characters as though components of some pop diaspora, equating wild flower with root. Boyle careens through the hustle and bustle, employing tired “visceral” techniques—jumpy handheld, tilted frames, extreme close-ups—and a LOUD-quiet-LOUD soundscape. But there’s a drive to the filmmaking, a harping insistence that something fresh is happening here (or over there) despite the musty narrative. There are surface seductions, such as an emergent cityscape reflected by the tinted shells of designer sunglasses, or a sly, pulse-pounding sequence improbably motivated by the banal mechanics of telemarketing, but the film stalls on style. Like a deep-pocketed club owner or talent manager, Boyle sells Mumbai—or the hip Anglo vision of it—as the new hotness. And pace the title, he’s slumming his way to millions.
Click here to read the rest of Eric Hynes’s review of Slumdog Millionaire.