Danny Boyle is an accomplished stylist whose films (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, etc.) always bear distinctive visual stamps. But style often overtakes substance in his movies, leaving the impression that his hapless characters are rattling around inside a Rube Goldberg world of wild visual setpieces that confine and control them. Boyle's latest, Slumdog Millionaire, is no exception: Its story leaps about wildly in time and space and, as if afraid that his viewers might get too complacent with a merely fractured timeline, Boyle splinters it, adding split-second memory-images and flash-forwards into scenes to shake them up further. The story is sometimes less about the characters than about how they're framed within a gloriously composed shot or a furiously jumpy scene. And yet Slumdog Millionaire features the simplest story Boyle has ever told, which may explain why its many pleasures are so pure.
In the present day, protagonist Dev Patel is an 18-year-old menial worker at a Mumbai telemarketing center, and an unprecedented game-show success who's reached the final stage of India's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? But because he's an uneducated young "slumdog" who shouldn't have the necessary knowledge to win, he's suspected of cheating, and packed off to the local police station for torture, mockery, and accusations. With a hard-to-believe calm reserve, he explains how he knew all the game show's answers to date: Each one of them tied into a significant moment in his ghastly hard-knock life. As the film explores these traumatic moments in flashbacks, they merge into a surprisingly sweet love story that draws in the brother and the young girl who shared his formative experiences.
Slumdog Millionaire is an unabashedly swooning romantic fairy tale, a love letter to the bright colors and outsized complications of India's cities, its storytelling, and its cinema. It takes place in Boyle's usual deterministic world of contrivance and coincidence; it's no surprise that Boyle seized upon Vikas Swarup's bestselling book Q&A; as something he wanted to adapt to film. But for all the darkness Patel encounters along his road, Slumdog is a relentlessly positive, joyously sentimental adventure, best summed up in the breathtaking Bollywood-esque dance number that arrives over the closing credits. Boyle's eye for beautiful images and fast-driving sequences is as sharp as ever, but here for once, they pen his stars into experiences they might have wished to avoid, but that lead them exactly where they want to go.