SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE Telluride Movie Review

     August 31, 2008

Written by Hunter M. Daniels

So now we reach the big guns…


How much money is your first kiss worth? How much for the life of your mother? Your eyesight? Would you clip a car battery to your feet for 20 million dollars? Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire asks all these questions and more.

The film, which is a sort of non-linear romantic adventure, details the life and times of Jamal, a boy born into the poorest parts of India. With the help of his brother he survives the slums, along the way unbelievable, horrific and magical things happen to him. As an adult, he competes on the Hindi version of “Who Want’s to be a Millionaire?” Shockingly, every ounce of suffering he has ever experienced comes back as the answer to each trivia question.

Slumdog Millionaire is not a terribly deep film. Still, it is exceedingly good at what it does. The film transcends the goofy story concept and grows into a gripping piece of magical realism that is reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The movie was shot on location in some of the poorest parts of the world and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle makes good use of the unique location. There is so much vitality and life in the film. every shot is stuffed with detail and nuance. If the film had been made on a back lot, the sets alone could have cost 40-50 million. As it stands, the film was shot for a fraction of that.

The film is grounded by a series of virtuoso performances from child actors. Some truly horrific and outrageous things happen during the first third of the movie but the children’s performances never waver, granting the film the gravitas needed for the narrative to function.

The movie is also deliriously romantic. The final third of the movie played me like a piano. My heart palpitated in my chest as the young lovers fought for their chance at happiness. Think City of God with a large dose of date movie material injected into it and you might begin to get the idea. And, like many Boyle movies, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Many of the concepts and ideas are sort of half baked on their own, but juxtaposed against one another, the film turns electric. Boyle finds magic in the cracks in the sidewalk. The action is tense. The humor is effective. The magic is delightfully whimsical. And this is a screen romance for the ages. And even though the ending is pretty much what you’d expect, it feels earned because of the epic struggle of the lovers. There is such a rhythmic fury to it all that you will barely even notice that half the film is subtitled.

This is the nicer, kinder Danny Boyle of Millions, not the snarling cynic of Shallow Grave. Instead of the usual indie film existentialism, there is an unabashed embrace of the classic Hollywood style. Everything comes back and everything ties together. The concept of order in an absurd world is a very comforting idea in these trying times. It’s tremendously encouraging to think that every broken bone and smashed dream can come back to save your life someday.

This is why I go to movies. It ranks amongst Boyle’s best. I can’t wait to see it again.

With Fox Searchlight backing the film, don’t be surprised if you see it up for some major awards* come February.

*Foreign film, adapted screenplay and cinematography are all possibilities in my mind.

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