Laura CliffordTwo young boys, and their dad, leave their longtime home to escape the memories of the place following the death of their mom. They move into a new community where neither Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) nor younger brother Damian (Alexander Nathan Etel) knows a soul and must contend with a school system where the other kids deem them outsiders. Damian, after school, retires to his cardboard fort along side the railroad tracks and reads about the lives of saints, all the while hoping for a miracle that will help him save the world in “Millions.”
Damian doesn’t just read about all the saints, he actually sees them. While daydreaming in his cardboard sanctuary on day and talking to Saint Clare (Kathryn Pogson), whom he calls the patron saint of television, a large canvas bag comes hurtling right onto the flimsy structure, flattening it. When he opens up the bag, Damian finds it stuffed with bundles of used pound notes. It’s manna from Heaven as far as the little boy is concerned and he rushes to tell Anthony of his extraordinary find. When they count up the loot, they realize that they have, in hand, over 200,000 pounds.
Anthony, ever the fast thinking capitalist, has visions of investments and earning interest from the money. But, Damian, who considers it a gift from God, decides to use it to take care of the poor and begins a naïve program of reallocation of funds. When he asks a neighbor, a Seventh Day Adventist, if he is poor, the guy lists what he and his friends don’t have – microwave, big-screen TV and all the other trappings of non-poverty. Damian’s gift, we soon see, is a two edged sword as his generosity turns the recipients to rampant consumerism and greed.
We soon learn, by way of narration by one of Anthony’s fellow students, about a daring train robbery that netted millions in unmarked British bank notes. The robbers packed the cash into canvas duffel bags and hurled them out of the speeding train at predetermined intervals. The thieves don’t know that ground zero for one bag is atop Damian’s fort. Later, when a mysterious stranger begins hanging around, Anthony figures out he is one of the robbers and tries to get him off of the scent of the loot.
Meanwhile, public service commercials (by Brit acting icon, Leslie Phillips, and his lovely, buxom assistant) hammer away at the impending day, very soon, when Britain will convert to the Euro. On that day, any pounds not converted will become worthless. Anthony and Damian desperately try to convert their booty but, without an accompanying adult, fail in the task. They decide to tell their father, Ronnie (James Nesbitt), what had happened but, before he can assimilate all the new information, their home is broken into and ransacked. Now, with all their possessions destroyed, dad decides to keep the money, much against Damian philanthropic wishes. Ronnie and his new girlfriend, Dorothy (Daisy Donovan) – who Damian sees as a danger, replacing his mom in his father’s eyes – take the boys and, with the clock counting down, try to convert the cash into Euros.
Danny Boyle, style-wise, hasn’t changed all that much since his “Trainspotting” days. He still uses fast motion photography, sprinkled through the film, to give things his signature quirkiness, but it seems superfluous here. The focus of the film is on the near-angelic little Damian, who has visions of his favorite saints replete with long conversation and theological debate with the likes of Saint Joseph (Nasser Memarzia), Saint Peter (Alun Armstrong), Saint Francis of Assisi (Enzo Cilenti), Saint Nicolas (Harry Kirkham) and what appears to be a pot-smoking Saint Clare. These moments – it is never clear if the saints’ appearances are the product of a child’s imagination, hallucination or genuine visitation – are often funny and thoughtful as they are used to help Damian sort out the dilemmas he faces with the newfound wealth.
The star of “Millions” is the youngest member of the cast, little Alexander Nathan Etel. Director Boyle elicits a performance from this diminutive newcomer that is charming and frustrating as the boy tries to do what he believes is right but just doesn’t know how to go about doing it. You feel the helplessness of his brother, Alexander, as time and again, he learns that Damian is just giving away wads of cash – money that Alexander sees as the means to set them up for life. Etel is a charmer and helps draw you in to the sometime uneven tale.
The adult actors, kept to a minimum with Nesbitt, Donovan and Christopher Fulford, as the mysterious and ominous stranger, providing two-dimensional backup for the younger thesps. Nesbitt, the “name” actor in the film, is given little to do and his abrupt change of heart over the money, turning to greed, does not sit right. There are a few quirky characters, like the doom-saying bicycle policeman (Pearce Quigley) who’s cautionary and amusing lectures about home security foreshadow the later break in.
There are fantasy elements to “Millions” that couple nicely to Damian’s unshakable faith in his saints that make this a good film for older kids. And, you get a brief history of many of the sainted icons of the Catholic religion, for what its worth. I give it a B-.
Ronnie Cunningham (James Nesbitt, "Bloody Sunday") is making a new start for his boys, nine year old Anthony (newcomer Lewis Owen McGibbon) and seven year old Damian (newcomer Alexander Nathan Etel), by moving into a new suburban housing development after the death of their mother. The cunning Anthony instructs innocent Damian that mentioning their misfortune will usually result in gifts, and he's proven right in the local sweet shop. One day as Damian's playing in his cardboard playhouse near railroad tracks, he's astonished by a huge Nike bag which flies into his playhouse, seemingly from the sky. When he and Anthony investigate its contents, they discover they now have "Millions."
Director Danny Boyle ("28 Days Later") and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce ("24 Hour Party People"), the father of seven, pair up to explore a new direction in their work - the world of childhood. The film is beautifully imagined, designed (Mark Tildesley, "Code 46," "28 Days Later") in primary colors with several sequences featuring visuals being constructed as if by building blocks (editing by Chris Gill, "28 Days Later") and a score (John Murphy, "Intermission") reminiscent of the work of Danny Elfman. Yet while the script cunningly takes two roads, juxtaposing Anthony's materialistic avarice with Damian's fantastical charitable pursuits, it dawdles and meanders on the road to a disappointing climax.
Anthony is involved in the regular pursuits of video games and bike riding, but Damian lives in an odder, more interior world, imagining he talks to saints. Anthony becomes shrewd with the appearance of the money, warning Damian to tell no one, including their dad, or they'll be taxed on it. He then outfits himself with a gang of paid protectors like a young mob boss and contemplates purchasing property. Damian, on the other hand, believes the appearance of the loot is a miracle from God and discusses the concept of miracles in his bedroom with St. Peter (Alun Armstrong, "Van Helsing"), who provides an amusingly revisionist version of the story of the loaves and fishes. Damian begins doing deeds like stuffing bills into the mailbox of a group of Latter Day Saints (accompanied by an encouraging Saint Nicholas (Harry Kirkham)). A threatening man (Christopher Fulford, "Bedrooms and Hallways") Damian interprets as needy appears by the tracks looking for money, and Damian runs off to fetch it for him, but Anthony steps in with explanatory subterfuge, hoping to fend the guy off with a jar of coins.
Meanwhile, in the adult world, the idea of robbery is being planted in the background with the local constable (Pearce Quigley, "The House of Mirth") lecturing the new homeowners on the inevitability of break-ins during the holiday season and the proper procedural response to the crime. Grownups begin to view money with the eyes of a child when Damian stuffs a thousand pounds Sterling into a charity bin at school at an event capitalizing on the upcoming conversion to the Euro (in this film, old currency becomes valueless on Euro-day). Charity rep Dorothy (Fergie lookalike Daisy Donovan) meets with Ronnie and a romantic spark is struck. Meanwhile, Damian discovers his 'miracle' is really robbery loot. When the man from the train tracks appears backstage at the school's Christmas pageant, Damian, in full shepherd gear, takes his loot and bolts trailing his wheeled donkey behind him.
This is the point where "Millions" becomes muddled, as Ronnie learns just what his kids have been up to. After the Cunningham home is burgled, Ronnie and Dorothy immediately succumb to greed, with only Damian voting for returning the stolen loot. The foursome engage in a last minute supermarket sweep, using Damian's charms to convince banks to deposit suspiciously large sums. In the film's biggest misstep, a line of charity cases visits the Cunningham home in the middle of the night. This would be fine if the filmmakers had engineered the scene as a ploy of Damian's to thwart train robber, but no such luck - it merely occurs with no logical explanation.
Young Alexander Nathan Etel has an angelic, freckle-sprinkled face and the gentle demeanor of pure innocence and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle ("Dogville," "28 Days Later") frames the boy like a fragile Hummel figurine. Lewis Owen McGibbon is another find as Anthony, reminding of "Malcolm in the Middle's" older brother Reese - if he were smart. Nesbitt conveys an overburdened dad and Daisy Donovan is the kind of fun-loving woman who could smoothly insinuate herself into a pre-made family. Jane Hogarth gives off a maternal glow in a late appearance as the boys' late mum. The saints are also well played, most, like Kathryn Pogson's ("AKA") St. Clare, with a good dash of humor.
For all it's lovely, subtle touches - St. Joseph (Nasser Memarzia) ignored in the upstairs hallway quietly returning Damian's abandoned donkey, Damian bringing Dorothy to where his mother worked, Selfridge's cosmetics department looking like a vision of heaven surrounded by a material world - the many-years-in-the-works script still has too many inconsistencies. Dorothy enters the story as a charity crusader, yet plunges head first into Ronnie's plan to abscond with stolen money. Damian is insistent upon returning the cash, but knowingly provides an adult with a ruse to keep it.
"Millions" is a bright, imaginative and warm-hearted children's fable for kids with the patience to stick with it. Adults, however, may be let down by Boyle's squishy story telling.
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