Danny Boyle’s ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is artful, if extreme

[10 September 2008]

By Michael Phillips

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

TORONTO - The payoffs of a major film festival are many. Here’s one: You come out of a movie you liked, and 10 seconds later you’re arguing with a guy for whom “like” was not enough.

“Come on! It’s a really good movie!”! Baz Bamigboye of the London Daily Mail was telling me - ordering me, in fact - as we exited the packed press screening of “Slumdog Millionaire,” a slick, dazzlingly crafted crowd-pleaser from British director Danny Boyle. Shot largely in the slums and tumult of Mumbai, it’s the first widely acknowledged popular success of the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival, which continues through Saturday.

Last year’s Toronto festival capped a trend of prepping the major studio Oscar bait for the end-of-the-year hook. “No Country for Old Men” made its North American premiere here (its world premiere in Cannes, France, came four months earlier). It is entirely possible that next year’s Academy Award winner for best picture will be one of this week’s Toronto premieres.

But more than ever, the glut and hustle and competing interests of North America’s premier festival can mean whatever an observer wants them to mean. You want to stack up a bunch of studio junket interviews to use the rest of the year? Great: This is the place. You want to catch several of the buzziest attractions that opened earlier this year at Cannes? Terrific: Here’s your festival.

The undercurrent of this year’s Toronto festival is less about setting up the Oscar nominations list and more about throwing anything and everything against a massive wall to see what sticks.

Certainly “Slumdog Millionaire” sticks. The film, adapted by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty,” “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”) from Vikas Swarup’s best seller, follows an orphan boy played by three different actors, most prominently Dev Patel as a young man. Jamal, the protagonist, is sweating out a rough police interrogation the night before he risks 20 million rupees in potential winnings on the Hindi version of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” Jamal is a national hero, a rags-to-riches fairy tale incarnate. But is he a fraud? The police believe he is.

Surely this “slumdog” couldn’t possibly possess such wide-ranging knowledge, relating to who’s on the U.S. $100 bill or who invented the revolver. For each question Jamal answers on camera, while millions hold their breath, another chapter of a fantastically resilient life is revealed by way of flashback.

Boyle’s previous films include “Trainspotting,” “Millions” and “Sunshine,” and this, I suspect, will be his biggest hit to date. It opens in America Nov. 28. The key to enjoying this picture lies in the end-credits sequence, a Bollywood-style dance number featuring the entire cast. The entire film asks to be interpreted this way: as a Bollywood pileup of extreme emotions and picaresque adventures.

If you loved the energetic folklore and can-do triumphalism of Boyle’s “Millions,” you’ll probably have to be scraped off the floor after “Slumdog Millionaire.” But whatever you say of it, the craftsmanship is remarkable, with filmmakers heaping everything they know, and then some, into each packed and artful frame.

At any good festival, the coin eventually flips, and you find yourself falling for a picture no one else seemed to care about. Twelve hours, a couple of films and a few interviews after “Slumdog Millionaire,” I found myself back at the Varsity 8 multiplex in Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood, taking a chance on “Knitting,” a plaintive, low-keyed slice of life from director Lichuan Yin.

Destiny is the festival theme this year, from the predestined romantic hookup between Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks in Kevin Smith’s raunchy, often hilarious “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” (opening Oct. 31) to the karmic destiny laid out in Scene 1 of “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Likewise, it is the destiny of certain pictures to send half the crowd up the aisle and out the doors early, leaving the other half to hash it out for themselves.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/danny-boyles-slumdog-millionaire-is-artful-if-extreme/