Talk about your impressive debuts. After working in television, Boyle channeled his inner Hitchcock by taking the story of three flat mates and a suitcase loaded with cash and turning it into a classic exercise in suspense. Sure, there are some obvious directorial flashes that get in the way of the dread, but overall, this is a forgotten gem in Boyle’s often brilliant oeuvre. In fact, it’s hard to understand why more fans don’t consider this their primary introduction to his work. Trainspotting is often cited as his first real “film.” For those of us familiar with it, we beg to differ… greatly.
How, exactly, do you make an exciting and uplifting film out of the true life story of Aron Ralston, a man who had to sever his own arm to rescue himself after a hiking mishap? Better still, how do you keep such a gory, graphic event from overwhelming the rest of your narrative. If you’re Boyle, you broaden the subject beyond the sensationalism, taking into account who this man really was and what the event meant to him as a son, a friend, and an adventure seeker. With James Franco nailing the lead, you have a film that shouldn’t succeed, but does so astonishingly.
While our number five choice was his impressive debut, this second film in Boyle’s creative canon announced what a very special and highly unique filmmaker he was aiming to be. The story of heroin addicts in Scotland should have been an insular entertainment, only interesting to those within a specific demographic. Instead, Boyle experienced a burst of false phenom idolatry. Luckily, he would be brought back down to Earth with his next two efforts. Still, this is an amazing movie, almost interactive in how it propels you through the difficult, dead end lives of these characters. There’s talk of a sequel. Here’s hoping.
The hit. The mainstream acceptance. The Oscar run and eventual win. Boyle deserved it, especially in light of the years where he and his particular muse were overlooked by the Hollywood system. Still, Slumdog is no sell out. Instead, it’s an expertly controlled mystery, the manner in which our hero can answer these otherwise difficult questions leading to powerful vignettes filled with insight and empathy… and when you consider that it was a British man commenting on the social situations in India, the discourse has even greater meaning. Sure, it’s a feel good fable about overcoming adversity, but the realities go much, much deeper.
Imagine is Stanley Kubrick had turned 2001 into a standalone thriller, the main focus being on HAL, his two astronaut companions, and that fatal flight to Jupiter. Now leave in all the philosophizing and deep thought subtext, and add in new fangled high tech imagery. As the perfect companion piece to that 1968 masterpiece, Boyle explores man’s relationship to the cosmos and himself in the same sensational manner. There are moments in this movie that are so moving, so awe-inspiring both visually and intellectually that you have to wonder how it ever got made. It’s an aesthetic mantra for most of Boyle’s work.