Flickering Myth’s writing team count down to the release of Trance by selecting their favourite Danny Boyle movies; next up is Tom Jolliffe with 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire….
Danny Boyle’s gift for storytelling and constant desire to push boundaries means that picking a favourite from his back catalogue was a tough ask. Trainspotting was an exceptional piece of work, both hilarious and gut-wrenching in equal measure but always enthralling. There’s always a push and pull with Boyle’s best work and he’ll flip the tone on its head in an instant. Visual dynamism too is always at the forefront.
Slumdog Millionaire took the cinema world by storm. Many people had no knowledge or expectation of this film before it came out. Many thought Boyle was going to try his hand at a Bollywood movie, with all that you’d stereotypically (rightly or wrongly) expect from such a film. Light, breezy, colourful, dance numbers aplenty. Whilst Slumdog does indeed feature some of those elements (including the dance number at the end of the film), it is much more. A young man from Mumbai is on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Unexpectedly he makes it all the way to the final question for 20 million rupees. Believing that Jamal (Dev Patel) has cheated, the police interrogate him. He recounts his life story up to this point, explaining just how he came to know the answer to each question, and revealing an upbringing filled with pain, struggle and lost love. It’s a wonderfully woven tale.
The film was a smash hit, becoming the big word of mouth film of 2008, as well as sweeping Award ceremonies too. Boyle crafts a wonderfully original piece of work that charms you, entertains you, captivates you and when the time is right twists your stomach. I, nor many who went into this without prior research, never expected this to be as intense as it is at times. The fact is though that whilst Boyle, ably abetted cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, paints a beautiful canvas on screen, he doesn’t simply want to step away from the grim reality that many growing up in the slums of Mumbai actually encounter. In lesser hands the film’s tonal shifts would have alienated the audience, and more casual audience members often crave a consistency. A comedy should be comedic throughout. A drama dramatic. Matters must not be confused, but when melded, and done so with the control of a master the rewards are bountiful.
Boyle’s other master stroke was to fill the cast with unknowns, including some children who actually lived (and still live) in the slums. Despite including young children with no experience of acting, the performances are all amazing, all drenched in authenticity. Of the older members, Jamal in the present day, Dev Patel, is fantastic. Virtually unknown aside from his role in Channel 4 teen drama series Skins, Slumdog launched Patel into Hollywood. Likewise the truly breathtakingly beautiful Frieda Pinto has also become a star and household name. She’s magnificent in this. It is however probably the younger cast who enthrall most given their inexperience and probably complete naivety about the process of acting and making a film. What comes across feels completely real.
Music has always played an important part in the Boyle canon. Here is no different with a fantastic and immersive score by A.R. Rahman. It beautifully transports you into Mumbai. Every technical aspect is spot on here. The sound work is first class, again immersing the audience into the setting.
There are often long winded arguments from filmophiles about the worthiness of the Best Picture Oscar winner each year. Certainly this was one year when arguments didn’t rage quite as much or quite as loudly as other years. It would be hard to deny that Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t a worthy winner. Given the other four nominees that year, Slumdog is the name that does stand head and shoulders above the rest. The same goes for the other seven Oscars it did win. Both Patel and Pinto should also count themselves unlucky for not receiving nominations for their sterling performances. For a film to feature as much charm as this does yet to also be as harrowing as it is at times truly takes a level of genius that few filmmakers possess. Danny Boyle is one.