Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Dev Patel,
Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan
Director: Danny Boyle
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: March 31, 2009
“I knew you’d be watching.”
Every year seems to present at least one film that generates so much critical buzz during awards season. We usually refer to this as “The Little Movie That Could”. In 2008, that film was Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which went on to win eight Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been so incredibly happy to see a single film make such a fantastic sweep. Not only was this my choice as the best film of last year, but it’s quite simply one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of film you want to tell everyone about the minute it’s over.
What it proves more than anything is that Danny Boyle is a filmmaker who can do no wrong. All the films I’ve seen of his leading up to this, in particular the visually stunning Sunshine, have all been grand slams (yes, I did in fact enjoy The Beach). Never sticking to one specific genre, Boyle always manages to do something unique with his films in the way of storytelling and visual style, both of which are executed brilliantly in this film.
Through a unique narrative, the story is told through the eyes of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), the latest contestant on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”. He is precisely one question away from winning 20 million rupees. But something doesn’t sit right with Mubai authorities, which is the fact that a kid from the slums of Mumbai happens to know all the answers to the questions he’s been asked. According to them, he could only be cheating.
After the police enforce some torture tactics, Jamal explains how he, in fact, knew all the answers. We are then taken to the game show setting, where he is asked the questions by the host (Anil Kapoor). As each question is thrown Jamal’s way, the story flashes back to pivotal moments in his childhood which provide striking illustrations of how he was able to get every answer right.
What we come to witness is that a life of pain and loss while growing up in Mumbai was all the education Jamal needed should he ever find himself on such a game show. One question even takes Jamal back to the very day his mother was killed in a brutal street riot. He even says, while being interrogated, “I wake up every morning wishing I didn’t know the answer to that question.”
The major focus in the flashback segments is the relationship between Jamal and his brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal). Following their mother’s death, they seem to veer into different paths. Salim eventually becomes seduced by a violent criminal lifestyle, while Jamal is too focused on a special girl that enters his life.
Her name is Latika (Freida Pinto) and it turns out the she is the very reason Jamal decided to go on the game show in the first place. As far as Jamal’s concerned, winning all the money doesn’t matter all that much. What means more to him is the possibility that she might be watching.
One of the things that make Slumdog Millionaire such a unique film is the amazing balancing act it performs. You could mostly classify it as a drama, but there are so many additional elements. At one point it’s a fantasy, while at the same time exploring some tragic elements, until it finally reveals itself to be one of the most touching love stories ever told.
The cast of unknowns are absolutely remarkable. You simply can’t help but root for Dev Patel right from the beginning, which is due in large part to the amazing level of innocence he brings to the character of Jamal. And one look at the breathtakingly beautiful Freida Pinto, and you can fully understand why Jamal’s reasons for going on live television.
Aside from being such a rich and thoroughly gripping piece of storytelling, the film is simply a masterpiece of filmmaking from every possibly angles. From the cinematography provided by Anthony Dod Mantle (who also shot The Last King of Scotland) to the one of a kind music score delivered by A.R. Rahman to the flat out brilliant editing job of Chris Dickens, this film represents what great filmmaking is all about. And once again, I am so very happy that Academy voters agreed with me in those areas.
Despite the fact that by now it’s received worldwide praise from critics and audiences alike, not enough can be said about the phenomenal achievement that is Slumdog Millionaire. Danny Boyle has worked long and hard leading up to this film, and his rewards for it are deserved all the way. If you haven’t seen this film, stop what you’re doing this minute and see it now. For it is a film that will be treasured for years to come!
Lastly, I should point out that the film’s R rating is absolutely unnecessary. I would say the film is indeed suitable for the age range of 13 and up, at least.
Having seen the film in theaters not long ago, I can certainly say that the Blu-ray experience is every bit equal in terms of a grand presentation. Danny Boyle’s visual style is brought to amazingly vivid life in the HD format. The 1080p makes the authentic Indian setting appear even more striking in authenticity. The colors are flat out astonishing, and the stunning cinematography is reflected beautifully. For a film where the visual aspect is a key ingredient, you really owe it to yourself to see it in Blu-ray if you have such access.
The film won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Sound, and the fantastic DTS HD mix is a superb reminder of why. Sound plays a pivotal role throughout the film, mainly in the realm of music. The score by A.R. Rahman alone makes this a remarkable sounding presentation, as each song is delivered quite powerfully through the channels. In addition, every scene carries with it a stunning sounding quality in one way or another, be it crowd noise in the slums or in the game show studio. Dialogue delivery is tremendously clear from beginning to end. All in all, a wonderful sounding presentation for a film that truly merits it.
This Blu-ray release from Fox includes some really great stuff, starting with two commentaries; the first one features Danny Boyle and actor Dev Patel, while the second one is with producer Christian Colson and writer Simon Beaufoy. We also get 12 Deleted Scenes, two featurettes; “Slumdog Dreams: Danny Boyle & The Making of Slumdog Millionaire” and “From Script to Screen: Toilet Scene”, as well as a montage titled “Slumdog Cutdown”, and Indian short film titled “Manjha”, a music video for the song “Bombay Liquid Dance”, and two Theatrical Trailers.
Slumdog Millionaire is more than the best film of 2008, it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Danny Boyle has truly outdone himself as a filmmaker with this beautifully made work of cinematic art. And on Blu-ray, it’s an even more enriching film experience, and one I’ll be looking forward to revisiting time and time again.