Slumdog Millionaire (Boyle, Tandan, 2008)

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Tackling an Oscar hype machine like Slumdog Millionaire can be a slippery slope. Much like The Dark Knight, it’s produced fundamentalist responses by both champions and naysayers, and the film itself can get lost amidst the impassioned tirades and defenses. Danny Boyle’s rags to riches tale resonates an inspiring energetic rhythm throughout, even while reveling in cliche and pandering film techniques. The first half is a mosaic of extreme colors and textures, much of it seen through the eyes of children living within a fantastic vision of poverty in the slums of India. Is it a “realistic” vision of these horrible conditions? Hell no, and it’s not supposed to be. Boyle’s formalist tendencies have always overwhelmed his stories, and Slumdog is no exception. Boyle moves from genre to genre relating an extreme emotional reaction with its aesthetic equivalent – here it’s the temporal manipulation of the melodrama, i.e. flash backs, flash forwards, and musical cues.  The great sin of Slumdog Millionaire is it’s convoluted ending, which defies the fluidity of the opening and wraps up all lose ends into a nice Academy friendly package. However, pushed up against the abysmally false emotions of Benjamin Button, Slumdog and it’s fleeting story of lost love an fate seems downright honest.

Sunshine (Boyle, 2007)

Sunshine, as it’s title might suggest, breaks things down to the barest essentials – fire, light, cold, ice, and life or death. In the near future eight astronauts travel to detonate a huge bomb at the sun’s core to re-ignite the dying star. Success means life on Earth, failure means the death of all mankind. Director Danny Boyle uses this clear cut ideology as a skeleton to base the plot twists, character development, and relationships of the film. Led by Cillian Murphy’s explosives expert, the brave souls on Icarus 2 begin to realize the absolutes involved as they fly closer to the devastating brightness of the sun, the ultimate key light which Boyle brilliantly uses to confuse, hallucinate, and finally scorch his combatants. Sunshine becomes something else in it’s final act, not quite a horror film, or even a sci-fi picture, but a final disturbing chapter for mankind’s most primal urges. Boyle stages his drama in relation to the the potential sunlight, glimmering rays bursting through wide angle establishing shots from space, a plethora of digital beauty as menacing as it is stunning. But just as Sunshine deals in the essentials of human nature – sacrifice, murder, radicalized religion – something feels forced, convoluted, and completely artificial about the way Murphy and company exude these changes in character. It might be Alex Garland’s sometimes muddled script, or the cramped, haunted Kurbick mise-en-scene Boyle utilizes, or even the small scale of such a huge, end of the world mission. Sunshine ends up being a fascinating experience, but mostly on a visual and audio level, it’s sonic booms of sound meshing wonderfully with John Murphy and Underworld’s toned down score. As for the visuals, well, as every other reviewer has said, they’re out of this world, often transcending the screen and blinding the viewer themselves. But Boyle doesn’t follow the sci-fi rules entirely, injecting some fascinating aesthetic touches of his own to compliment the characters’ becoming. Splices of lost, haunted images revel in between frames, absolute truths become crushed by ideology, and point of view falters more often than not, producing a blurred, sun drenched reaction to the barest essentials described above. Sunshine falters when it presses saintly themes too hard (and some ridiculous plot devices), but luckily Boyle and company let the sun and it’s eternal rays do most of the talking, and the burn will last a long time.