Thursday, April 11, 2013

Danny Boyle – Movies Spotlight – April 2013

Danny Boyle, 56, is one of the great British auteurs currently working today – bringing a hip stylistic vision and indie sensibility to Hollywood Prestige filmmaking. This month he has a new film coming to theaters entitled Trance – a crime thriller about an art auctioneer who gets caught up in a heist. The problem is, he cannot remember where he hid the merchandise and thus a hypnotherapist must work with him to recover the lost painting. It stars James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent Cassel. It looks very much a return to Boyle’s more gritty crime dramas and filmmaking (like Shallow Grave). Boyle is also again working with frequent collaborators screenwriter John Hodge, producing partner Christian Colson, composer Rick Smith, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, and production designer Mark Tildesley. View the trailer: here.

Early Career:

Boyle started his career in the theatre in the early 1980s. He worked with the Joint Stock Theatre Company, Royal Court Theatre (directing The Genius and Saved), and the Royal Shakespeare Company (directing five plays for them). Years later, in 2011, he returned to the theatre directing a brilliant stylized version of Frankenstein for the National Theatre Live (it starred Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch).

He next worked extensively in British television, getting his start as a producer for BBC Northern Ireland in 1982. He then began directing, helming a number of TV movies and episodes of series and mini-series. Most notable are his TV movies The Nightwatch and For the Greater Good.

Transitioning to Feature Films:

Boyle’s love of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now inspired and influenced him towards directing feature films. For his first, Boyle teamed up with producer Andrew Macdonald and writer John Hodge for the crime thriller Shallow Grave. The film stars Ewan McGregor (launching his career), Kerry Fox, and Christopher Eccleston. It is about three flatmates who discover their new roommate dead and loaded with cash, leading them down a dark path. Boyle knew that the film was going to be a hit when it was very warmly received at the Cannes Film Festival by audiences and critics (the festival organizers had to set up additional screens to satisfy demand). It went on to be the most commercially successful British film of 1995, winning the BAFTA for Best British Film.

Hot off the success of Shallow Grave, Boyle, Hodge, and Macdonald acquired the rights to Irvin Welsh’s novel Trainspotting and quickly went into production. McGregor returned as well in the leading role, with Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, and newcomer Kelly Macdonald co-starring. The story centers around Renton a Scottish heroin addict who tries to get clean, but he keeps getting pulled back in by his friends. The film was a breakout hit for Boyle internationally, playing to acclaim everywhere (garnering Hodge an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay). It is both among IMDb’s Top 250 and number ten on BFI’s Top 100 British Films of All-Time (and among my personal top 50 favorite films).

Hollywood Calling:

Shallow Grave and Trainspotting (along with Bottle Rocket, Pulp Fiction, Fargo, Clerks., Swingers, and The Usual Suspects) were among the films revolutionizing cinema in the early to mid-1990s, as independent film was becoming the way forward for great films and filmmakers with new visions. In this changing landscape, studios started subsidiaries (or purchasing smaller distributors) to acquire these indie films (like Disney’s purchase of Miramax in 1993).

Boyle signed a production deal and moved to Hollywood (as other indie filmmakers were also signing deals with studios). The first project that he was approached for was Alien Resurrection, but he declined, instead wanting to continue to work with his creative team.

A Life Less Ordinary became Boyle’s first Hollywood film (though with British financing), again with a script from Hodge, Macdonald producing, and McGregor in the lead. Cameron Diaz was also cast, fresh off her breakout success in The Mask (as well as She’s the One and My Best Friend’s Wedding), along with Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo. The film is about a cleaning man in L.A. who takes the boss’s daughter hostage after being replaced by a robot. Meanwhile, two angels are charged with a mission to make them fall in love – a tall order. The film opened to mixed reviews and box office failure. It is probably a bit too weird for mainstream audiences.

For his next film, the studio wanted a bit more control and wanted Boyle to cast a bigger star in the lead. Boyle agreed and cast Leonardo DiCaprio (who had just made Romeo + Juliet and Titanic) in The Beach, which left McGregor upset (only very recently have they made up) as he had expected to be cast in the lead (they have yet to work together again). However, Hodge stayed on, writing the script based on Alex Garland’s cult novel, and Macdonald as producer. The film is about Richard, a young man who goes to Thailand to find himself. Boyle cast Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Tilda Swinton, and Robert Carlyle in the main supporting roles. He also brought in Darius Khondji to shoot the film (his first time not working with Brian Tufano). All the pieces were in place for Boyle to have a hit, but again the film just did not connect with mainstream audiences or critics. After two films made for Hollywood, Boyle was burnt out and looking for something different.

While A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach are among Boyle’s weaker films, they still have some interesting aesthetics and make for entertaining viewing for fans of Boyle’s style.

Experimenting with Digital Photography:

Boyle saw the Danish film The Celebration and was fascinated by the digital photography. He immediately wanted to meet Anthony Dod Mantle, who shot the film, and experiment with the medium himself. Together, they made two digital films for BBC television – Strumpet and Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise.

Happy with the results, Boyle, Macdonald, and Dod Mantle set out to make their first digital feature. Boyle tapped Alex Garland to write the script, and together they reimagined and reinvigorated the Zombie genre with 28 Days Later…. Starring Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson, and Megan Burns, the film is about a young man who awakens in London to find that the world has been ravaged by a virus. To survive, he must band together with a few strangers and look for somewhere safe to hide. The film was a huge commercial and critical success (essentially resurrecting Boyle’s career). While it is not the first digital feature, it had a major impact on how audiences viewed the medium and garnering its acceptance among filmmakers (though the night scene at the end was shot on 35mm film). Boyle has said that the film would not have been possible if he shot on film, especially the exterior scenes in London. He also aesthetically liked the look of DV for the post-apocalyptic landscape.

Next, Boyle returned to crime dramas with his heist film Millions. However, it has a very different feel (at times) compared to his past work, and is his first film not to be rated ‘R’. While he again shot on digital using Dod Mantle, the film marked his first without producing partner Macdonald. The story centers on two children who discover a bag of money (which was lost during a heist, but the criminals are looking for it). It stars newcomers Alex Etel and Lewis McGibbon, with James Nesbitt co-starring. Audiences and critics did not really know what to make of it, as it is oddly different than anything Boyle had done before tonally, but also sort of the same in moments too.

Prestige Films:

Again wanting to do something completely different, Boyle set out to make a psychologically-minded sci-fi thriller/drama akin to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Andrey Tarkovskiy’s Solaris with Sunshine – as the film deals with what happens when man meets his maker (in a sense). Boyle again worked with producer Macdonald, composer John Murphy (a frequent collaborator of Boyle’s, working on five of his films), production designer Mark Tildesley, writer Alex Garland, and star Cillian Murphy on the film. He hired brilliant photographer Alwin H. Kuchler to shoot the film (and he does a spectacular job). In addition to Murphy, the film also stars Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, Mark Strong, and Hiroyuki Sanda. The film is visually incredible and emotionally powerful (but had a tough time with domestic mainstream audiences). It is a must-see for fans of hard science fiction (and it is among my favorite films in the genre). Boyle had such a grueling experience making the film that he has claimed that he will never make another sci-fi project.

Continuing his trend of trying new genres with each film, Boyle decided to make his next film in India – a romance thriller called Slumdog Millionaire. He also put together a new creative team, working with producer Christian Colson (who has since produced all Boyle’s films) and writer Simon Beaufoy. However, Boyle again brought in Dod Mantle to shoot the film digitally. Starring Dev Patel and Freida Pinto (and making stars out of both of them), the film is about the amazing adventure of an impoverished boy in Mumbai who grows up in the slums only to win ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’. The film was a sensational hit for Boyle, being both his highest grossing and most critically successful film. It won eight Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director at the 2009 Academy Awards. It also marked the first digitally-photographed film to win an Oscar for Best Cinematography.

Next, Boyle adapted the true story of Aaron Ralston, an outdoorsman who gets his arm trapped under a boulder while canyoneering along near Moah, Utah. He must resort to insane and desperate measures to survive. Boyle again collaborated with his Slumdog Millionaire team to make 127 Hours, and cast James Franco to star (who is fantastic in the film). It opened to critical acclaim garnering six Oscar nominations including Best Picture.

With 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle has asserted himself among the great indie filmmakers to come out of the 1990s who have gone on the be Oscar winners in the 2000s/2010s and certainly as one of Britain leading filmmakers working right now. Boyle is also one of the pioneers of digital photography through his collaborations with Anthony Dod Mantle. Digital is the medium of the future (somewhat sadly, as film still has a certain magical quality to it) with more and more films being shot on the medium each year.

Boyle also directed the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony to great acclaim and praise.


With Sam Mendes passing on making the Twenty-Fourth James Bond film, Boyle was approached. But, he too passed.

The long anticipated sequel to Trainspotting Porno looks like it will be finally entering production with a scheduled release year of 2016. Boyle has stated that all the cast members will be returning and he will be directing again.

Career Highlights:

1)      Shallow Grave (1994)* – director (Blu-ray, Trailer)
2)      Trainspotting (1996)* – director (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
3)      28 Days Later… (2002)* – director (Blu-ray, Trailer)
4)      Sunshine (2007)* – director (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
5)      Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – director (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
6)      127 Hours (2010) – writer, director (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
*Editor’s picks

No comments:

Post a Comment