In the opening scenes of Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal Malik (our pure-hearted hero, the good son) sits in a Mumbai police station where a fat cop beats the shit out of him, digging for a confession. Jamal, a poor, uneducated teenage nobody—the "slumdog" of the title—is on the verge of winning a historic jackpot on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Somehow, surely, the cops reason (wait, the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Police? Isn't there actual crime to deal with?), Jamal is cheating his slummy ass off. He must be stopped.
They review the tape of that day's show, and Jamal takes them, question by question, through his past and the odd, snarled strings of fate that delivered him to each correct answer. Once, as a child in the slums of Mumbai, a movie star's plane landed on a nearby airfield and Jamal was memorably dunked in some feces. That movie star's name is the answer to the first question, and Jamal remembers (because of the feces). Another time, in the clutches of an evil crime lord, Jamal was forced to sing to see if he was suitable to be blinded and turned out on the street to beg ("Blind singers earn double"). The evil crime lord's favorite song is the answer to another question. And so on.
And soon, Slumdog Millionaire—directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) and Loveleen Tandan—makes itself clear: It is the simplest thing. It's just a fairy tale, maybe the most delightfully straightforward adaptation of folkloric archetypes I've seen in a modern movie, a series of trials (riddling sphinxes, giants to be slain, princesses in need of rescue—all figuratively, natch) separating Jamal from happily ever after and all that.
The film is exhilarating and gorgeous and contains the most sublime use of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" (not sick of it yet!) through which you've ever had the pleasure of whooshing. Little skinny-limbed boys navigate treachery and temptation and mountains of garbage, seas of garbage—their corner of Mumbai is all lurid colors and postapocalyptic beauty. Boyle's ambition is exhilarating—if he's going to fail, he's going to fail spectacularly (and the second half of the film is shamelessly melodramatic)—and Slumdog Millionaire is a crazy, blazing contradiction. Childhood comforts meet startling innovation. Nostalgic newness. What the fuck? I loved it.