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Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Alexander Nathan Etel, Lewis Owen McGibbon
anny Boyle’s films have never looked kindly upon counterculture idealism, whether it was the misguided utopians in The Beach, the plague-unleashing activists in 28 Days Later, or the junkie lot in Trainspotting. So among the many creative about-faces in Boyle’s Millions is his embrace of an amaterialistic, youthful optimism. It’s a surprising offering from a director whose imagination has produced 1) a gruesome zombie-facilitated apocalypse, 2) a dead baby scene that still has me screaming in my sleep and 3) some exquisitely photographed bed-shitting.
“Imagination” is the operative word here. Millions is a delightfully whimsical family film, visually inventive, light on its feet, plenty of themes, generally pleasant in a kid-friendly, won’t-insult-the-adults’-intelligence sort of way—in short, everything a family movie ought to be. And that’s pretty fuckin’ cool, right? (Since you won’t hear any in Millions, I’m loading up this review with swears.)
Boyle and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People) have essentially rewritten Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan as a coming-of-age holiday parable, whose American release, sadly, comes at perhaps the least Christmassy time of the year. It focuses on two boys—Damian (Alexander Nathan Etel) and Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon)—who move with their recently widowed father to a Liverpool suburb to live in one of those uppity gated communities that is patrolled, creepily, by security officers on bicycles. While moving in, Damian builds himself an elaborate fort out of discarded boxes next to a nearby train track. One day a duffel bag full of money, lots of it, crashes through the wall and wrecks his would-be home—hard to miss the symbolism there.
No wonder they're smiling—they’ve stumbled onto the poppy field from The Wizard of Oz...
The money has been thrown from a passing train, but Damian believes it comes from God. A precocious child with an encyclopedic knowledge of saints, he often imagines being visited by his heroes of Christian martyrdom, always asking if they’ve encountered a Saint Maureen, his dead mother. Catholicism-related hallucinations aside, the money that fell from the sky is real, and Damian and Anthony set out to spend it, on all the comically limited excesses in which youngsters are able to indulge. Boyle and Boyce work in a clever deadline: in one week, Britian converts from the pound to the Euro, which will render all the cash worthless.
Luckily, Anthony has an extensive knowledge of economics, and he rattles on about exchange rates and foreign currencies like a prepubescent Paul Krugman. At times like this, Boyle and Boyne come dangerously close to broad-stroking their protagonists with one-note characterizations. But when I think back to preadolescence, it was just like this—we each found pretty much one all-consuming interest into which we poured the lingering shreds of our individuality, right before acting exactly like everybody else somehow became necessary. Time was, I’d go bananas if someone within earshot mispronounced the scientific name of a dinosaur. So yeah, in terms of capturing the idiosyncrasies of that “Calvin & Hobbes” period of late childhood, Millions nails it.
"I wonder if this Ratzinger fellow will force me to quit smoking..."
But anyway, both boys have different ideas about what to do with the money. Anthony uses it to buy some friends, illustrated during a hilarious sequence in which he rolls into school with his new “entourage.” Damian, listening to the saints in his head, wants to give it to the poor, which apparently includes a group of eerily blond, eugenically similar Mormons who live down the street. Eventually the fun and charity ends as someone comes looking for the loot, part of a haul from a robbery staged in a terrific scene that incorporates not one, but two Muse songs, which, in a kids’ movie, is pretty righteous.
The movie begins to lose its wheels after about an hour, once the necessary sermonizing kicks in and when subplots threaten to overwhelm the main storyline, which itself gets mired in Christian mysticism. But the wondrous first hour of Millions—pushed along by Etel’s and McGibbons’ nearly flawless performances—earns enough goodwill that a few script problems later on can be forgiven. This, after all, is what the saints would want us to do.
By: Troy Reimink
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