If you've followed the career of British director Danny Boyle, then the success of recent Oscar best-picture winner Slumdog Millionaire is only half surprising.
Since his first feature, the 1994 thriller Shallow Grave, Boyle has positioned himself as a filmmaker who mostly kept to the outer edges, either with edgy, stylish material like Trainspotting (1995) or a small, fanciful fable about a young boy, Millions. His most successful film commercially was the kinetic 2002 film 28 Days Later, perhaps the best zombie flick in years. In Slumdog, Boyle's storytelling abilities, heart and outside point of view come together in a wonderfully expressive and entertaining way.
Jamal (Dev Patel), Slumdog's young hero, looks like a victim at first. He earns a living serving tea to workers at a call center in Mumbai. Through cleverness and luck, he lands on the television game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and to the surprise of, well, everyone, he is on the verge of winning the big prize. This puts him under suspicion, and the "slumdog," as he is called, is soon picked up by the police, who torture him to find out how he's cheating.
From a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, which was adapted from a novel by Vikas Swarup, Jamal's story flows between the past and the present. (Three actors, including Patel, play Jamal at various ages.) As he is being tortured, the story flashes back to the young contestant's childhood. Throughout this there is Jamal's love for Latika (Freida Pinto, as the adult), which makes the film an unexpected romance, too.
As Boyle's camera takes the viewer into the slums of Mumbai with its ramshackle houses and teeming humanity, it would seem odd to think this film at all uplifting, but it is. The director never condescends to the characters. Vibrantly shot by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog has an upbeat spirit that is simply irresistible (to quote the late Robert Palmer).
The DVD includes a feature on the making of the film, deleted scenes, commentary by Boyle and Patel and commentary by producer Christian Colson and writer Beaufoy.