With Danny Boyle's Oscar-winner you either accept or don't accept. "It is written," as the film insists, or it isn't. You can indulge the belief in fate and destiny and happy endings except for the people who get shot, or you can't. It may come down to personal temperament. I try not to reject concepts out of hand, but Boyle was trying to do several things at once, and none of them turned out fully satisfactorily. It belongs to the gritty non-linear or otherwise structurally fragmented international genre that has given us stuff like Amores Perros, City of God, A Wonderful Night in Split and Gomorra, but not quite; and is partly Bollywood-inspired while withholding the full Bollywood experience until the end credits; and is of course a romantic fantasy of the kind Boyle has done before in A Life Less Ordinary, but more gritty and exotic. This may be a way of saying it's a personal rather than a generic film, but I still felt that Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy didn't do full justice to all the elements they were working with because they tried to fit them together too neatly.
Yet I can't say it was a bad film and I'm willing to concede that it just struck me the wrong way, despite the vivid direction and cinematography and guileless performances. Among the actors I was most impressed by Anil Kapoor as the most sinister game show host since Richard Dawson in The Running Man. He was prominent in what I thought was the film's most suspenseful scene. This was when Prem, the host of the Indian Millionaire show, appears to be feeding an answer to our hero, though we have reason to doubt his trustworthiness. I suspect this scene works better for American audiences than for British or Indian audiences because most of us will have no clue whatsoever what the right answer to the cricket question is. The film might have had a stronger finish had that been the final question. On the other hand, the teen and adult actors playing our hero Jamal's brother Salim are hampered by the script's inconsistent portrait of the character, having to veer from scumbag at one moment to fraternal self-sacrifice in the next.
Boyle has done better. Trainspotting and 28 Days Later remain his major contributions to the canon. There were better films made in 2008, and there was at least one better film nominated for Best Picture (Milk). Slumdog Millionaire is one of several relatively lackluster Best Picture winners from this decade, but it is at least a well-made film of too well-made a story, and it will keep Doyle working. That's a good thing.