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Dickens In Mumbai
When British direct or Danny Boyle hits his mark, no matter the genre, hardly anyone moves a story better. That is surely the case with Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, the dazzling, if predictable, tale of an teenaged slum kid who by wild fluke ends up on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Not in a long while has a foreign film from anywhere gotten such praise—and it comes via Bollywood at that, and with a Brit director to boot. But does Slumdog boil down to little more than a cinematic hustle, pulled off by the exhilarating finesse of a "blithely glib entertainer" (as one critic put it)? Or might this be a story worth telling, made the more so by Boyle's stylistic pizzazz?
Such questions have dogged the still-young Boyle (all of 52) from the beginnings of what is now an estimable film career. From the very start, he has walked the line, bending and pushing tired genres, infusing the worn-and-weary with style, storytelling panache, and more than a little thematic bravado. Boyle's first film, Shallow Grave (1996), did a macabre comic turn on a bunch of nasty yuppie roommates who dispose of a new roomie's body (an overdose) to keep his unforeseen bag of cash. Style over substance, said critics. Enticing and bold but, like its title, shallow. Mordant, perhaps, but—given its gore and its crass, unpleasant characters—why bother?
So too with the instantly infamous Trainspotting (1996), an antic, scabrous romp on heroin addiction told, for once, from the inside out. The film is based on a popular Irvine Welsh novel (and then a stage play) about a bunch of Glasgow laddies whose favorite diversion, when not scrambling for dope, is watching trains. So much for Rob Roy and sweet Robbie Burns. Catching both the bliss and bane of "H," Trainspotting's ambidexterity rather awed viewers. Still, something about that premise—that we should suffer these blithe, amoral dimwits—annoys the moralist in us all. So savvy a critic as Janet Maslin in ...