Unfortunate it may be that so many millionaire winners of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? are called cheaters, liars and hounds, it is rather inevitable, isn’t it? For those that suffered through Quiz, that story may hit closer to home considering its real-world standings and a sudden deluge of detail on how the show was created. It does not have the dramatic strengths or dangerous appeal Slumdog Millionaire has, a film from director Danny Boyle. He transports us miles away from his previous filming styles, incorporating the tilted, Dutch angles that are inevitable works of a man trying so hard to fire himself in a different direction to the work that defined him.
Boyle does a good job of that. Slumdog Millionaire does not feel like his work, yet his name is attached to it. His direction is remarkable at times, those early scenes of torture are juxtaposed well with the man that could win it all. True to form, Dev Patel marks yet another strong realisation of a character with his back against the wall. Even here, in a film where its desire is entertaining dramatics, there is much to be unpacked. An honest believability is formed with Jamal, who is portrayed, predominantly, by Patel. His character is the plucky hero that we can display ourselves onto. He is broad and well-defined, yet offers the audience an opportunity to root for a man whose only crime appears to be winning.
That much is explored well, and with a necessary timelessness. Boyle and Patel work well together, but it is the surprisingly dark tone of the feature that provides the pairing with such bold work. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is reality television. It is cannon fodder for the millions. How it has such dark undertones and a meritable status in controversial moments is as fascinating as it is eerie. Boyle adapts that well. He tries to dig deep into what makes the popular quiz show not just engaging for those few competition fanatics, but the broader appeal of a story being pulled out of the seemingly innocent game. Major Ingram’s coughing fit controversy was front-page news at the time, and it seems Boyle borrows from that system of ghoulish tabloid culture somewhat, although here he displays the other side of the coin; he wishes to explore the dangers Jamal experiences, despite his honest abilities as a quizzer.
That much is at the core of Slumdog Millionaire, and for all its expressive, tightly-driven moments of drama, it is weakened by the conviction Boyle has to displaying a relatively Hollywood song and dance. There is nothing wrong with that mentality, but it feels like a terribly awkward fit for a film based on a Vikas Swarup novel. Betrayal between brothers and bosses bubble up to make the core appeal of Slumdog Millionaire, but its origins and why its characters wish to appear on game shows are flawed. He gets the girl in the end, naturally, but the way we make it to those moments feel oddly stifled and a tad tacky at times. Boyle does well to move away from the direction that defined him, but why he wishes to do so remains a mystery.