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TIFF Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Just like an actor taking different roles to avoid being typecast, Danny Boyle continually reinvents himself as a filmmaker. That is of course, precisely why he is such an exciting filmmaker. Each of his films is a total original in its own way, yet they all have that same edgy flare which has come to define his work. The drug laced drama Trainspotting put him on the map, the zombie-slasher 28 Days Later kept him there, and the stunning sci-fi thriller Sunshine solidified his place as one of the most malleable talents in the industry. What type of rabbit will he next pull from his hat? Ever the experimentalist, Boyle has remained true to his genre-jumping nature by taking us straight into the beating heart of modern India for his latest film, Slumdog Millionaire.

Set in the ghettos of Mumbai, Slumdog follows the story of Jamal (Dev Patel), a poor but big-hearted boy who, along with his slightly erratic brother Salim, is forced to fend for himself from a very young age. Bouncing from city to city and seemingly always avoiding trouble by the slimmest of margins, the brothers and their “Third Musketeer”, Latika (Frieda Pinto), live their lives in a perpetual state of survival, fighting to exist from one minute to the next.

As the years pass and the colorful events of their lives lead the three friends along separate paths, they lose touch and settle into somewhat normal lives. Jamal finds himself on India’s version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, and in a position he surely never thought possible: answer one question and win millions of dollars. But when the powers that be deem it impossible for a “slumdog” without an education to advance so deeply into the show, he faces the ultimate question: are you lucky, are you cheating, or is it truly your destiny? As Jamal’s past comes hurtling back to him in waves of bittersweet memories, he is confronted by the toughest test of his life; one that will not only affect those closest to him, but also the nation and culture which defines him.

Slumdog is a magnificent film, because Boyle paints a true and genuine portrait of a India’s cultural society using the unlikeliest of stories as his canvas. It’s irrelevant whether Jamal wins any money on the show, thus it doesn’t matter if it’s even a plausible event. Yet the way in which Boyle weaves Jamal’s tale around the gripping suspense of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire infuses the film with a palpably intense energy and atmosphere. His young and mostly unknown cast is exceptional, as they work from a tightly written script. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy’s writing calls for sequences of romance, friendship, action, humor, despair, betrayal and greed, and Boyle captures the essence and mood of each scene with impressive scope and clarity. Whether it’s a dizzyingly effective sequence of canted camera angles or a dazzling handheld take, Boyle’s style is composed of countless intangibles.

With Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle has done it again. He’s made a film ‘ drastically different from anything in his filmography, yet done as such a high level that it he’s been perfecting this particular genre for years. Slumdog Millionaire is surely one of the year’s best cinematic experiences, and the standing ovation it received at my Toronto International Film Festival screening was well deserved.