Millions (United Kingdom/United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

If David Lynch and David Mamet can do it, why not Danny Boyle? I'm talking about hard-R directors suddenly producing a film that is suitable for family viewing. Lynch and Mamet both went G several years ago (Lynch with The Straight Story and Mamet with The Winslow Boy); now it's the Trainspotting director's turn. (Actually, the MPAA has given the movie a PG, but the content is appropriate for young teens and pre-teens, and this is likely the closest Boyle will ever come to crafting a kid-friendly motion picture.) Millions is a different sort of endeavor for the British filmmaker, but his fans will not be disappointed by some of the places where it goes.

Millions illustrates that it's not always easy to dispose of large sums of money, especially when you're a kid. A contemporary story suffused with magic realism and peppered with offbeat comedy, Millions transforms drama into fantasy. More mature than most fables yet less adult than the average Boyle feature, Millions offers a tale of great heart that can be enjoyed by all but the youngest of children (who may become frightened during certain scenes).

Damian (Alex Etel) and his older brother, Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), have moved with their father (James Nesbitt) into a new house. One day, while playing near the railroad tracks, Damian discovers a bag full of money - 229,000 pounds, to be exact. He tells his brother about it, and they decide that no adults can be informed. Damian and Alex disagree on how the money should be used. The older brother sees it as passport to material possessions and school status. Damian, however, wants to give the notes to the poor. Complicating matters is the fast approach of Euro day, after which all British pounds will be as worthless as fly paper. Whether or not the money is a gift from God (as Damian believes), there are Earth-bound criminals in search of it.

One of the great strengths of this movie is its perspective. Although there are adults in Millions, the story unfolds as seen through the eyes of a child. And Damian, as portrayed without a hint of guile by Alex Etel, isn't a typical seven-year old. He sees dead people - in particular, saints. Some of these are represented with typical Boyle irreverence. Clare of Assissi, for example, shows up smoking a cigarette and declaring herself to be the patron saint of television. And Saint Nicholas appears to help Damian deliver cash gifts to a group of "poor" Mormons (who then spend the money on "needs" like a widescreen digital TV and a foot massager).

Millions contains some of the same ingredients that made Amelie popular with audiences (in fact, Boyle has described the film as "Trainspotting meets Amelie"). Instead of romance, this movie substitutes the love for a recently departed loved one (Damian and Anthony's mother has died shortly before the movie starts). It's an uplifting motion picture that will bring smiles to faces, and Boyle's trademark irreverence keeps the feel-good experience from becoming too saccharine.

Millions (United Kingdom/United States, 2004)

Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan, Christopher Fulford
Screenplay: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Music: John Murphy
U.S. Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2005-03-11
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1